Telemedicine program offers specialized speech therapy

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Northwestern’s Rogalski said  dementia patients can benefit.
Northwestern’s Rogalski said dementia patients can benefit.

Dementia patients as well as individuals with primary progressive aphasia can experience problems with language, struggling to retrieve the name of a grandchild or finding  words to order dinner. 

But their aphasia often goes untreated because most speech-language pathologists often lack training for those with dementia.

A Northwestern University study, however, is showing that a specialized speech therapy program called Communication Bridge, delivered via telemedicine, can help people with dementia-related language impairment significantly improve their ability to recall words they had lost.

“These improvements are especially exciting because in neurodegenerative diseases we would expect declines, but these dementia patients are holding onto these gains,” said lead author Emily Rogalski, Ph.D., associate professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Participants take part in eight weekly therapy sessions with a specialized speech-language pathologist via a secure video-chat platform, practicing words and phrases that they want to be able to say throughout their day. Participants also watched videos to reinforce what they learned during the sessions and completed home assignments to support language memory. 

The study, published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, followed 31 individuals with early- to mid-stage dementia. Results showed that after two months of therapy, participants had made significant improvement in recalling the words they had found troublesome, and maintained that improvement after six months. Researchers found the telemedicine approach helped decrease the number of missed appointments, compared to clinic visits. 

Rogalski said her team plans to partner with industry organizations to advocate for telemedicine reimbursement.