Helping seniors communicate: Speech and language therapy at home

By March 31, 2011

Many seniors, especially those who have suffered strokes, require speech and language therapy. If your elder’s insurance won’t pay for a speech therapist, and you can’t afford one, you can still give speech therapy to your parent on your own.

The first step in speech therapy is to improve the dexterity of the mouth and tongue. The following oral motor exercises, performed 10 times each, and then repeated in a second batch each day, will help improve speaking ability:

1. Click the tongue.
2. Extend the tongue straight out.
3. Extend the tongue down to the chin.
4. Extend the tongue up to the nose.
5. Extend the tongue to each corner of the lips.
6. Push the lips to one side, and then to the other side, as though shaving.
7. Pucker the lips.
8. Smile broadly.
9. Pucker the lips and then smile broadly in quick succession.
10. Say “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba.”
11. Say “pa-pa-pa-pa-pa.”
12. Say “ca-ca-ca-ca-ca.”
13. Say “ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.”
14. Say “ma-ma-ma-ma-ma.”
15. Say “pa-ta-ca-pa-ta-ca.”

The second step in speech therapy is to improve cognitive language ability. Even though a stroke may have damaged the language center of the brain, neurons can still grow new connections and effect repairs as you lead your senior in a variety of language exercises.

You can use the objects and mementos in your parent’s home to create these exercises. Get out old photo albums and turn the pages with your senior, asking who’s in the pictures and talking about old times. Look around the house for old trophies, diplomas, arts and crafts, military medals and other objects that have had significance in the senior’s life. Not only can you use these as conversation starters, but you can help your elder to reconnect with reality and redevelop a sense of the world.

Other good mental exercises are card games, board games, checkers, chess, backgammon and dominoes. If your elder enjoyed any of these in the past, play them now. Your elder doesn’t need to play the game perfectly. It’s the mental conditioning that matters, so go ahead and let your elder win a few rounds.

Many elders, even those who have suffered strokes, can still write. Put pen and paper in front of your senior and ask for a recollection, or a letter for a relative. Again, the effort does not need to be perfect.

Another great way to exercise seniors’ minds is to sit down and read the newspaper with them. If your senior cannot actively read, you can read the paper to him or her, pointing out the photos, talking about the stories, and asking what your parent thinks.

Elders who are suffering from full or borderline dementia, and who may be speaking a great deal of gibberish, can still be engaged in conversation, even if you can’t always understand them.

What’s important to remember is that seniors who have communication problems are still people and still have something to say. Engaging them in conversation is the best way to respect this essential aspect of what it means to be a human being.

While Citizens Who Care for the Elderly can’t give your senior language therapy, the nonprofit group deploys 100 volunteers in three programs throughout Yolo County: the In-Home Respite and Friendly Visiting Program, Time Off for Caregivers, and the Convalescent Hospital Visiting and Pet Visitation Program. For more information, call Citizens Who Care at (530) 758-3704 or email [email protected]

— Robert Clark Young of San Diego is a caregiver for his parents, both of whom have suffered serious strokes. He is finishing his new book, “The Eldercare Survival Kit,” in which he shares his experience in elder care. This column appears monthly.

Robert Clark Young

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