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Preserving Skills and Function: Verbal Skills

The loss of verbal skills is an inevitable part of Alzheimer’s disease. It may occur when someone is in the early stages and be one of the first signs of the illness, or it may happen later as the disease progresses.

“The progression of Alzheimer’s disease is different for everyone,” said Ellen Leon Carbonell, LCSW, Associate Director of Family Programs at the Alzheimer’s Association. “In some people, changes in verbal skills are the first thing that gets noticed, and this often leads to a visit to the doctor to find out what is causing the change. For others, different issues are part of the early stage of Alzheimer’s, and it isn’t until the middle stage of the disease that changes in verbal skills are noted. By the advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, the person with dementia will have moved from communicating primarily with words to communicating via other methods, such as gestures, sounds, and touch.”

However, it is possible to preserve these skills. “We know that continued social engagement is something that has many benefits for people with Alzheimer’s, so connecting and communicating throughout the course of the disease may help people to live as fully as possible for as long as they can,” she said.

The Alzheimer’s Association has these tips for caregivers to cope with decreasing verbal skills in a loved one with the disease:

--If someone always loved music or the outdoors, caregivers can offer new ways to enjoy these things by altering what gets done – for example, a musician can enjoy listening to music, or a gardener can help hold tools while sitting with the caregiver who is weeding a garden.

-- By the late stages of the disease, a comforting touch or hearing a favorite song sung can reach the person with Alzheimer’s in a way that no words could, offering the true essence of communication.

--One of the most important messages for caregivers is that the person with Alzheimer’s is not “lost” to the disease. They often maintain a core sense of themselves until very late in the disease’s progression. Who each person is and what is important to him or her is something that caregivers can tap into as they engage with their loved one. It is up to us as family partners in care to find ways to communicate and connect with the person with dementia that provide meaning and comfort throughout the various stages of Alzheimer’s.