Finding the Right Words: Communication Skill Changes
Last updated: February 2023
It was a sad day in our house. After three years of weekly sessions with the most encouraging and helpful speech pathologist, it was my mom's last lesson.
Lindsay had gotten a new job at a new company. She would be helping children, mostly, so we didn't ask if we could follow her there.
We met Lindsay after I had seen a poster at a hearing aid appointment advertising speech therapy if you had trouble word finding.
Speech therapy: Bridging communication
Mom started her speech therapy in person. She sat across from Lindsay every week as she was quizzed about groups of words to see if she could remember them long enough to repeat them. Lindsay was happy to repeat them.
Mom wears hearing aids. Lindsay would always reassure her that it was a speech exercise, not a hearing test. Mom read, or was read to, short paragraphs and was quizzed on them for comprehension and being able to communicate the details.
Addressing communication skill changes
Idioms were a popular exercise. We all know the expression, "busy as a bee," but can we explain it in our own words without using the same words in the idiom? That's always tricky to define a word without using the word.
Mom was pretty tickled that she knew most of them. Lindsay was pretty tickled at my mom's description of "when the cows come home," and other "country" idioms, since mom grew up on a farm and they had cows.
Sometimes mom's examples were a little different than most!
This is a good exercise for mom. Her problem, as she sees it, is that she knows what she wants to say, but she just can't get the words out.
I can see the "log jam" of words on her lips as she tries to pick the right letters to make the right words. Lindsay has been so helpful to reassure her, that it's ok, to take a breath. The clear her mind and her mouth.
We can be patient too - give her time to come up with the words on her own. We want to jump in and make suggestions. It can frustrate her further.
Another trick Lindsay taught mom when she comes to an obstacle in her verbal road, is to go around. Describe the word. Say what it's used for, the color. Point to it. If it is in a package handy, I have mom read it. If we are in a store together, she will see something and ask what it is.
Instead of just telling her, I'll hand it to her, or say to get closer to it and read what it says it is. Now, that can get frustrating to her at some point, when she is less able, but for now, it works.
The worst game show
I was quizzing her about some McDonald's french fries yesterday. She couldn't remember what they were. I told her what they start with. Fr - fr... It was like we were on the worst game show. She did guess potatoes, even potato chips.
"If something is from France, what do you say about it?" (I'm the worst.) She guessed French. Then, she threatened, joking, (kinda?) to dump the cold remnants on my head. Withholding any more cheese puffs, which she was holding closed on her lap, ransom because we had no clothespins in the car.
I had worn her out on a trip to Sam's Club, and she was tired and in no mood for "educational" games. I praised her when she finally figured out french fries (when you cook something in oil - I'm still the worst).
The hunt for a new speech therapist
Mom was able to have telehealth appointments on the computer with Lindsay for the last two years since the pandemic turned the world upside down.
Insurance covered it the whole time. Lindsay wasn't sure how long it would be covered once things settled down. She thought it best for mom to be seen in person. So, now we are on the hunt for a new speech pathologist. Mom shed a few tears. It was saying goodbye to a friend.
Lindsay was such an encourager, praising and sympathizing and giving mom the tools to overcome her frustration, never holding it against her. She has left very big shoes to fill.
What sort of communication skill changes have you been able to work through with speech therapy? How do you help your loved ones when they get stuck? Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.
Do you think businesses can better accommodate individuals living with Alzheimer's and their caregivers?