Allied Health Professionals & #Dementia

“I am an allied health professional and I know I make a difference to people’s lives everyday” by Helen.

Helen shares, in this 60 second film clip, how she makes a difference to people’s lives everyday.

I’m an Advanced Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) working in NHS Dumfries & Galloway. I work as part of an interdisciplinary team, The IDEAS Team. We support health and social care staff working with people with dementia, particularly when that person is distressed.

Sometimes when people have dementia they have problems with communication. They may be in pain or misunderstand what is happening and be unable to explain it. People can then understandably become upset or behave in ways they wouldn’t normally. Our team help staff, through education and consultation, work out what’s causing the distress and where possible help prevent it in the first place.

I carry out assessments, observations and interviews with the person themselves and with staff. I might use Talking Mats, plain old pen and paper or just everyday objects to work out what the person can understand and how they express themselves.  I can then give staff advice on the best ways to work with that person. I might give them a key fob with common words on around a particular situation that’s causing confusion, or encourage staff to use props, mime or use a whiteboard. I also coach staff when things are really difficult and frustrating, when they are really trying their best but things are really complex. Dementia is never just a one person job and I’m there to lend a listening ear and help them work out the next steps.

I was really delighted to be asked to take part in these films because in my experience too many people with dementia, their families and the staff supporting them still don’t know just how SLT can help them make life a little easier. SLTs are known for our work in helping people with eating and drinking but not so much for communication support. I felt that this was a really great way for people to find out about the support that’s out there and what they are entitled to.

Before filming

Before filming

During filming

During filming

Christine and Helen after filming

Christine and Helen after filming










To find out more about Scotland’s AHP dementia policy, Connecting People, Connecting Support visit:

Allied Health Professionals

pic 1

Who are they and how can they help you?

Allied health professionals are a group of various health professionals who can support you if you have dementia. They are often referred to as AHPs and are registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC).
Allied health professionals are experts in prevention and rehabilitation and will help you focus on your abilities and strengths so you can stay connected to your community and live in your own home for as long as possible. There are several different kinds of allied health professionals and we designed a leaflet about those AHP’s you are most likely to see in a community setting including:
Dieticians to help you to eat and drink well
Occupational therapists to help you to continue with the occupations (activities) that are important to you from getting dressed to hobbies or going to work
Physiotherapists who you to stay active
Podiatrist who you to look after your feet
Speech and language therapists who help you with your everyday conversations and any difficulties you have with swallowing food and fluids.
For other AHP’s (arts therapists, orthoptists, paramedics, prosthetist, orthotists and radiography) visit
It is best to make early contact with an AHP if you are worried about your memory or if you or someone in your family has recently been diagnosed with dementia. That way you can get the information, advice and treatment that is right for you and your family as quickly as possible. Our leaflet describes how AHP’s can help and how to get in touch with them.

pic 2

5 things you should know about the AHP leaflet
1. We designed the leaflet in partnership with the allied health professional bodies, who endorsed and supported the content of the section about their profession
2. We worked with the Scottish Dementia Working Group (S_D_W_G) and the National Dementia Carers Action Network on the content and language use

pic 3

3. We will be updating the leaflet at the end of this year and welcome comments on how useful the leaflet. Tell us your idea and comment on this blog or email us at We will also ask you during Scotland’s Dementia Awareness week (30 May-5 June)
4. We have already shared over 3,000 of the leaflets so far since its launch last summer
5. You can receive a copy of the leaflet 6 ways
• online,
• from an Alzheimer Scotland link worker
• from your local Alzheimer Scotland dementia advisor
• at your local Alzheimer Scotland resource centre
• from your local NHS AHP
• email us at and we will send you a copy.

pic 4

Thank you for reading this blog. We look forward to hearing your views and ideas on our allied health professional leaflet and this blog?

pic 5

Elaine HunterElaine Hunter
Allied Health Professional Consultant, Alzheimer Scotland

My remit in Alzheimer Scotland is to bring the skills of AHPs to the forefront of dementia practice and to share with them the principles and practice of working in a major charity that is dedicated to “making sure nobody faces dementia alone”. I am leading the delivery of commitment 4 of Scotland’s Dementia Strategy. In short, a great job working with great people.

“A blog a day blether” for #DAW2015

Allied Health Professionals Q&A

Day 5 “Ask a Speech & Language Therapist”

5th June will be by Joy @joysltdem

Pic 2

Communication and eating, drinking and swallowing are fundamental to our well-being, and it is the speech and language therapist’s role to help with these skills for people with dementia at all stages of the illness. The following questions highlight many common areas of difficulty and I hope that the answers provide people with ideas on how to work around the challenges.

Question 1 – Do speech and language therapists work with people to learn to sign some words when speech is going?


pic 5

Answer – This would be very unusual, unless the person had signed previously. It is recognised that it is generally difficult to learn new skills. However, increased use of body language and natural gesture is fully recommended. Most of us have highly developed skills at reading body language that we developed as babies and toddlers before we even started speaking. It is likely that the person with dementia is reading body language (which includes facial expression, tone of voice, posture etc.) long after language comprehension has deteriorated. It is therefore important to be aware of what you are communicating non verbally and to enhance natural gesture to facilitate comprehension. The person with dementia can also be encouraged to increase their use of gesture to aid their expression when words are difficult to find. Playing miming games such as charades may be a way of encouraging this skill.

Question 2 –My wife has difficulty with her speech. She gets very confused and often uses words that make no sense. She then gets angry with me when I don’t understand what she wants and sometimes throws things at me. I am weary and at times quite frightened. I have no idea how to help her tell me what she wants.

pic 6

Answer – this is a difficult one. It is obviously important to reduce frustration because more effective communication is always achieved in calmer settings.  Firstly, always ensure that distractors such as television, radios, barking dogs, crying grandchildren etc., etc. are reduced to an absolute minimum. One to one communication is always more likely to be effective.

Then I would recommend acknowledging when you do not understand and posing questions such as ‘are you talking about….. (the doctor?  tea? yesterday?)

Alternatively pick up objects, pictures and say ‘is it this?’ Visual materials help to focus the person and helps them to remember what it is they are trying to talk about.

As in the previous answer, encourage the use of gesture to get messages across.

However, if all this increases frustration and inevitably sometimes this might happen, it is vital to acknowledge that frustration and suggest she comes back to it later. Then try to distract her with another activity or topic.

Question 3 – My wife gets very frustrated when she can’t find words. Should I finish her sentences for her?

Answer – Finishing sentences for people depends very much on individual relationships and there isn’t one stock answer. I recommend that you ask the person whether they would like support on completing sentences and how soon you should ‘jump in’. Be aware that you need to be listening very carefully to be sure that the word you offer is actually what the person is trying to say, because selecting the wrong word can increase frustration.

Question 4 – I am finding my friends have stopped visiting because it is so hard to have a conversation. Is there anything you can suggest which might help?

pic 3

Answer- It can often be daunting for friends to continue visiting if they feel conversation is becoming more difficult; however there are several ways that good interactions can still be achieved. Generally speaking, it is better to focus conversation on a tangible object such as a newspaper, photograph, keepsake or newly acquired item from the shops, for example. This is because 1) the focus is taken off the person and put on to the item and 2) the person is more able to keep in mind what the topic of conversation is.

Old photographs are particularly good as very often older memories remain for longer. Remember though that it is not necessary to correct erroneously remembered memories because the focus should be on the quality of the shared interaction and not the truth as you remember it.

Sometimes people find conversation flows more easily if you are both involved in an activity together e.g. arranging flowers, tidying out a drawer etc.  Simply commenting on things such as ‘that is a beautiful flower’ or ‘I had a pen like this once’ may well result in an exchange of comments.

It is important to avoid the use of questions, particularly open-ended ones such as ‘What did you do in the war?’  Even questions that just require a Yes/No response often don’t lead to further conversation easily and should be used as little as possible.

It is also important not to talk too much. Often we fear silence and try to compensate for the reduced conversation from the person with dementia by talking incessantly. Occasional comments and companiable silence, particularly when engaging in some activity is absolutely fine.

Question 5 – My husband has been put on a soft diet and really misses his favourites. Is it ok to bend the rules a bit?

pic 4

Answer- There are many different reasons why people are put on a soft (puree diet). It would be very important to discuss with the Speech and Language therapist (SLT) why he was put on this dietary texture in the first place before bending the rules. Modified diets are used to reduce risk of choking and/ or aspiration of food and drink that might lead to chest infections, and it is vital that the level of risk for your husband is fully understood.

SLT’s are always mindful of balancing the risks against quality of life. It is often found that people manage their favourite foods better due to increased stimulation and therefore an informed discussion with your therapist could result in a controlled trial of these foods.

We welcome ideas and comments from our readers about this blog.

Joy HarrisJoy Harris
SLT,Clinical Lead for Dementia, Lothian

I work in East and Midlothian Psychiatry of Old Age teams seeing people with communication and/ or swallowing problems from the point of diagnosis of Dementia, and at any stage throughout the patient journey as the need arises.

3 questions to shape this year’s blog posts in dementia care

Let’s talk about dementia shares the work and practice of allied health professionals in relation to dementia care. It aims to offer advice to people living with dementia, their carers, partners and families. The blog also offers a source of information to other health and social care professional colleagues.  In 2014 we posted blogs about how an allied health professional can help you with a focus on falls prevention, communication tips, eating well and an enabling home environment.  What else would you like to know from:

  • Art therapy
  • Dietician
  • Music therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Paramedic
  • Physiotherapy
  • Podiatrist*
  • Speech and language therapy


What self-care information from this group of professionals (outlined above) would be helpful for you to live well with dementia that we can post in Let’s Talk about Dementia?

We have shared the role of some of the people who we work with in Alzheimer Scotland and who work here including our occupational therapy intern, occupational therapy student and a dementia advisor

What other work and roles would you like to hear about that we are leading on in Alzheimer Scotland?

We have also shared new and developing work in the area of dementia care including dementia friendly communities, exploring the potential of digital technology, living well in a care home and dementia and work

What other new work do you know about in the area of dementia care would you like us to include in our weekly blog posts?

We would welcome your positive comments and feedback on how to make this blog useful to you and it would be great if you could comment on our three questions posted or email us at


*formally known as a chiropodist