Sign Language Gives People with Dementia a Way to Speak

John “Alec” Stephenson, an administrator at the Silverado Aspen Park memory care community in Salt Lake City, raised a son with a hearing impairment. As many parents of children who are hearing impaired, the family embraced sign language as a means to communicate with their son. Years later, Alec started a program to teach sign language to the residents of his memory care community. This program has become so popular that now residents meet weekly to learn sign language.

Sign Language and the Nexus Program at Silverado

Research shows that learning new skills and keeping the brain active are among the tools with the best chance of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Ongoing social connectivity and cognitive exercises are some of the pillars of Nexus at Silverado, a specially designed program that uses clinical findings to help slow the progression of dementia. One of the newest and most recent programs to be put into action is the American Sign Language (ASL) program at the Silverado Aspen Park memory care community. ASL has been incorporated as a part of the Nexus program to help residents to be more socially interactive/communicative and to learn a new skill. I will explain the other parts of the Nexus program later in this article.

Residents meet to learn sign language once a week for an hour. Alec leads the class, assisted by a resident who learned sign language as a child being raised by deaf parents.

According to Stephenson, “Some of the residents are retaining what they’ve learned, but the primary goal is to engage their minds, improve motor skills and enhance quality of life.” He believes that along with improving motor skills, the act of focusing on communication is key. Whether they fully learn to communicate using ASL or not, caregivers are teaching residents to model behavior (such as picking up a spoon or expressing when they’re hurt). This kinetic and tactile approach will hopefully help enhance social interactions with other residents and caregivers.

Other Facets of the Nexus Program

Nexus, from the Latin for “connections,” is Silverado’s specially designed program to help individuals in the early stages of dementia build and maintain cognitive ability. The program consists of 20 hours per-week of specialized programming along with individualized assessments and tracking that is provided to families quarterly. Nexus is focused on the beneficial activities and components of brain fitness that may slow the progression of dementia and is not anticipated to reverse or restore any cognitive losses.

For Alzheimer’s patients and others, specific activities and behaviors enhance a brain-healthy lifestyle and can slow Alzheimer’s decline. While certain steps may help change the progression or pathologies of dementia, an earlier start most likely means better results.

· Exercise: Recent studies show an association between higher levels of physical activity and a slowing in cognitive decline and dementia onset.

· Stress reduction: Methods such as guided meditation, Yoga, Tai-chi and more, have been shown to provide benefits such as improved activity in the hippocampus.

· Cognitive exercise: Engagement in cognitively stimulating activities early in the course of Alzheimer’s has been associated with slower cognitive decline.

· Specialized digital programs: Tools promoting critical thinking and brain fitness have been shown to improve auditory processing speed, attention, and memory.

· Purposeful social activities: A strong social network involving purpose-oriented activities has been found to protect against cognitive decline.

· Support groups: Studies suggest that support groups may benefit individuals with dementia by reducing depression and improving quality of life and self–esteem.

Always consult your doctor about changes to your exercise routine and diet.

Be Proactive – Teach Children Sign Language Early to Prevent Alzheimer’s Later

Dr. Paul D. Nussbaum believes that sign language may be defense against Alzheimer’s disease in later life. He suggests that we teach children to use sign language before they can talk and chances are good they’ll be better able to fend off Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia as senior citizens. Learning ASL typically leads to a higher IQ that correlates independently with the reduced risk of dementia in later life.

What Else Can You Do at Home?

Promising research shows that you can reduce your risk of dementia through a combination of healthy habits, including eating right, exercising, staying mentally and socially active, and keeping stress to a minimum. By leading a brain-healthy lifestyle, you may be able to prevent or lessen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and slow down, or even reverse, the process of deterioration.

Medicaid Asset Protection

Do you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia? Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Fairfax Alzheimer’s Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Alzheimer’s Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Alzheimer’s Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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