Two Parents, Two Communication Disorders An SLP deals with the effects of her father’s dementia and her mother’s strokes. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   January 01, 2018
Two Parents, Two Communication Disorders
Author Notes
  • Elvy Rolle, MS, CCC-SLP, retired in 2011 from the Lansing (Michigan) School District after a 38-year career treating adult cognitive-linguistic deficits, adult and pediatric traumatic brain injury, and pediatric speech and language disorders. She authors children’s picture books that support thinking, oral language and literacy skills. eprolle@gmail.com
    Elvy Rolle, MS, CCC-SLP, retired in 2011 from the Lansing (Michigan) School District after a 38-year career treating adult cognitive-linguistic deficits, adult and pediatric traumatic brain injury, and pediatric speech and language disorders. She authors children’s picture books that support thinking, oral language and literacy skills. eprolle@gmail.com×
Article Information
Special Populations / Older Adults & Aging / Language Disorders / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   January 01, 2018
Two Parents, Two Communication Disorders
The ASHA Leader, January 2018, Vol. 23, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.23012018.72
The ASHA Leader, January 2018, Vol. 23, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.23012018.72
A storm had been brewing. My sister’s plea summoned me home to Florida from Michigan in June 2011, because our 83-year-old daddy was gravely ill.
Daddy had endured the devastating effects of dementia for 10 years. A life-threatening gall bladder infection—inoperable because of his weakened state—landed him in the hospital.
Daddy had been a talker. But now he spoke comparatively little, occasionally asking a question or requesting food. He became confused with directions and forgot how to do many daily activities.
Capitalizing on his strength and interest in numbers, I engaged him in basic math activities, like addition and subtraction. He experienced varying degrees of success, depending on how the operations were set up. He was always willing to try.
His attempts at conversation include memories of years gone by and unusual comments, which I’ve named “Daddyisms”: pithy, original, personal life-experience commentary. The interpretations of these spontaneous utterances are often obscure but full of wisdom: “When you get 80-some years old, the box can’t pull the load like it used to,” or “The way you treat a person is what life will be to you.”
Momma did the bulk of Daddy’s care until he moved into a nursing facility in 2012, and she visited him regularly. But in September 2013, another storm hammered our family. Momma had an ischemic stroke, followed by a hemorrhagic stroke in the hospital, leaving her with right-side weakness, minimal use of her right hand, aphasia, dysarthria, dysphagia and apraxia, with limited speech intelligibility. Her receptive skills were significantly better than her expressive skills.
Once again, communication took on a different form: interpreting body language and global gestures, a look here, a frown there, a touch.
I eventually introduced Momma to a touch-talk communication device. She learned to explore the various built-in categories, complete phrases, imitate initial sounds, indicate opposites, complete memory exercises and repeat words. It was challenging, but with more personalization, regular practice and successful attempts, she is becoming more spontaneous with the device and sees it as an asset.
With both of my parents, we have used strategies that keep communication alive in people with dementia and aphasia: We support brain function through good health practices, capitalize on strengths and interests, search for alternative means to communicate, and make memorable “conversation.”
Daddy passed away in a nursing facility in July 2016, almost three years after Momma’s strokes. His “Daddyisms” still echo in our hearts. And Momma, always a beacon of guidance, support and encouragement to her family, now needs these from the people she nurtured. She’s not the momma I once knew, but she’s the precious momma I have now.
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January 2018
Volume 23, Issue 1