Communication at Risk?

I am delighted to be able to share this blog by another mentalhealthslt about her role working with people with dementia. Joy has been an inspiration and an invaluable source of information for me (and I know to others) on my professional journey as a Speech and Language Therapist in Mental Health. Joy has also agreed to contribute to future blogs on mentalhealthslt so look out for more in the future…

Communication at Risk?

Speech and Language Therapy in Dementia #SLTDementia

Joy Harris           


P1I have always felt privileged that I have a job which is never dull and has challenge and reward in equal measure. There is no such thing as a typical week. I work with people newly diagnosed with dementia who have significant communication difficulties. These are most often people diagnosed with a Fronto- temporal type dementia or with language deficits associated with an atypical Alzheimer’s .I have an additional role of Clinical lead for Dementia in Lothian. This means that I constantly juggle day to day clinical work with more strategic work on developing the awareness of the speech and language therapy role in dementia and increasing the knowledge and skills of speech and language therapy . I am most passionate about increasing our role in facilitating communication in people with…

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No Pressure!!!

Having thanked my AHP colleague for re-tweeting a link to my blog, I received the following response: @SusanDMunro How about a wee piece #SLT #dementia? That would be great! <no pressure!!!>.  So to mark World Alzheimer’s Month and Dementia Awareness Day here goes Sandra!

Working in General Adult Psychiatry, dementia is not usually on my professional radar, however, a recent conversation with one of my Communication Champions was about a resident with Alzheimer’s Disease.

The conversation went a little like this…

Since the training we have started using visual supports in Tommy’s flat so he knows what time of day it is and things like that.  He was getting very confused but the visual prompts are helping.

That’s great.  Have you thought about what you’re going to next?

Well that’s the problem.  Tommy doesn’t have any difficulty communicating.


Yes.  We understand everything he says.

What do you talk with him about?

Well he asks a lot of questions – quite repetitive really.  He’ll ask me what kind of car I have and I’ll say “Remember when you helped me get the shopping out of the car Tommy?  It’s a silver Fiesta.”, but I don’t think he does remember.  He used to talk about other things too.  He loves films – Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne and all that – and he was in the Black Watch – we used to hear loads about that.  He used to talk about that stuff all the time.  He’s a really sociable man.

So your conversations with Tommy are about the same things every time?  And he starts conversations the same way every time?

Yeah, that’s right.

Do you think Tommy really wants to know about your car or just wants to talk to you?

Probably just wants to talk – he must get lonely.

Are you still sure Tommy doesn’t have any communication problems?

Yes he does, doesn’t he?

This was a bit of an epiphany for Sharon who had been working with Tommy and supporting him in his home for many years.  Changes in communication skills are part and parcel of dementia and because this change is gradual and inevitable it can be very easy just to accept them, but there is so much we can do to support the person to continue to communicate to the best of their ability and to keep them engaged and interacting positively.

Earlier this year I attended the Qualitative Research in Mental Health conference and decided to attend the session on dementia because of the strong theme of communication running through the presentations.  I discovered there, that many of the communication support techniques that I am very familiar with from working in the adult learning disability field, are only now being used in dementia.

From Intensive Interaction to Reminiscence and Life Story work using iPad technology, there is a wealth of excellent work going on to support communication between people with dementia and their families and carers, and Speech and Language Therapists have a great deal of specialist knowledge to support this work.