People who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease might usually show signs of other disorders linked to the condition. Alexia defines a disorder that affects the ability to decipher written words and spoken language. Aphasia means verbal communication skills slowly decline, while agraphia affects the patient’s writing skills. Caregivers should be cognizant of these progressive diseases and learn to handle signs to preserve communication in Alzheimer’s sufferers for as long as possible.
These complications might all occur together, with agraphia and alexia commonly linked. One of the first signs of alexia might appear when patients mispronounce a word in normal conversation. Sometimes, they pronounce a word correctly, but it has no meaning when combined with other words used in the sentence. Patients often substitute words when they cannot express thoughts using words that make sense. As aphasia gets worse, patients might resort to neologism, a condition marked by words they invent that actually have no meaning at whatsoever. Over time, speech typically becomes incomprehensible until the patient gives up talking altogether.
Caregivers might also notice patients appear confused when jokes containing puns are told. People suffering from the disease might be unable to understand the double meaning of wry humor or be able to decipher sentences containing more than one main idea. Using short sentences and smaller words helps patients understand verbal conversation. Speaking slowly and using simple concepts also might help, along with pausing a moment between sentences when the subject changes. These tactics usually work better in a quiet environment without distractions, and when caregivers make eye contact with patients.
When alexia and agraphia occur together, patients might lose the ability to understand text. They may lose the ability to spell short words or perform simple tasks, such as writing a check. One of the first signs of agraphia might show up when patients take an inordinate amount of time to complete these tasks. This might indicate they are experiencing difficulty in processing how single letters form a word. At its extreme, patients cannot recall how to sign their names.
In Alzheimer’s patients, the temporal and occipital regions of the brain no longer operate normally. This area of the brain controls cognitive functioning, including the ability to process individual words and their relationships with other words in a sentence. When these areas of the brain fail to activate, words lose their meanings. The condition might also surface in brain injury patients and those who suffer strokes.
With patience and understanding, the ability to communicate can usually be preserved for a longer period of time. Speaking slowing and simply could help the Alzheimer’s patient understand and participate in conversation. When writing becomes difficult, a relative or friend should obtain power of attorney to handle the patient’s business affairs before the patient loses the ability to sign documents.
Our counselors and RNs at Partners in Healthcare are available to talk with you about your in-home care needs including how to reduce caregiver stress while providing better, affordable care. We are a senior care agency providing elder care in Orlando, 407-788-9393.
Hank Charpentier, MBA, MA, BSB, Certified Senior Adviser