“We’re going to do a few tests to see whether your mother is showing typical signs of dementia.” The word conjures chilling images of loved ones’ lives reduced to confusion and fear as memories and independence slip away. While loss of physical independence is unfortunate, it can be more devastating to lose a loved one’s verbal companionship. Dementia reduces one’s ability to name objects, people, or recollect specific memories. As a result, dementia sufferers use language less and become removed from conversations happening around them.
As scientists, our goal is to ascertain what can be done to slow the progress of dementia and mitigate its symptoms. This takes the cooperation from many teams to break down the individual symptoms and see how these symptoms respond to treatment. In Speech and Hearing Sciences, our focus is on preserving language faculties in patients with dementia so that they can communicate effectively for as long as possible. Patients’ progress (or decline) is measured at various intervals to see how well selected treatments are working. For many years these assessments were primarily behavioral in nature. For example, therapists might count how many words a patient with dementia could name in one minute. Behavioral tests work well because they are inexpensive and easy to administer; however, patients’ performance may vary considerably from day to day based on fatigue, emotional state, or other factors. (more…)