When a Cherry Village Benevolence resident has problems associated with dementia, the new speech/language pathologist (SLP) at the facility is often asked to provide guidance and maybe treatment.
Brianna Saryerwinnie has been at Cherry Village only a short time but is already helping patients on a regular basis. She is one of six Therapy Services employees at the long-term-care facility.
“People don’t usually think of SLPs as being able to help people with dementia,” Saryerwinnie said. “But we offer a variety of treatments that can help people maximize their quality of life.”
Dementia is a group of symptoms related to memory loss and cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form.
If Cherry Village staff members notice a resident is showing signs of dementia, they relay the information to Saryerwinnie.
“I hear about residents who are becoming more confused,” she said. “In some instances, patients suffer from ‘sundowners,’ which refers to symptoms getting worse as the day goes on.
“The nurses and aides also let me know if someone has trouble getting dressed or brushing their teeth,” Saryerwinnie added. “Our therapy can help with these day-to-day tasks.”
The SLP’s first step is a 15-minute screening. If the resident fails the test, Saryerwinnie then seeks a full evaluation. A doctor’s referral is necessary for this further testing.
During her assessments, Saryerwinnie becomes acquainted with the resident by asking about their families and former occupations. Her goal is to build a rapport and maybe learn about hobbies that can be incorporated into daily life.
While some people don’t require therapy, others need help with memory loss, problem solving, thought organization, reasoning and orientation to their surroundings.
“We use a lot of visual supports,” Saryerwinnie noted. “For example, we write information on a white board, including the resident’s particular location in the building and doctors’ appointments. They can always refer to this.
“We also compile memory books with photos and other mementos,” she continued. “People really enjoy reminiscing and they remember events depicted in the book. Long-term memory is often good in people with dementia; short-term memory is the problem.”
In addition, an SLP can learn through testing if someone can retain new information. For instance, Saryerwinnie mentions three items and determines how long a patient can remember those items.
“If they can retain them for 15 minutes, they will probably remember them the next day,” she said. “This tells us they can learn new information.”
Saryerwinnie emphasized that a major part of her job is sharing recommendations with Cherry Village staff.
“The nurses and aides here are great; they are receptive to learning as much as they can,” the SLP said. “Since they spend much more time with residents than I do, we work as a team.”
One SLP recommendation to staff is to break down the steps of an activity. Instead of asking people to stand up, “it is better to suggest they first put their hands on the arms of their chairs,” she explained. “When that is done, then we ask them to stand up.
“Anytime more than one step is involved in an action, it is often better to break it down into single requests,” she added.
Saryerwinnie also noted she is available to families and other caregivers who have questions about speech/language pathology and dementia.
The Russell native now lives in Ellinwood. She earned her master’s degree in speech/language pathology at Fort Hays State University in 2014.
Cherry Village, 1401 Cherry Lane, is a non-profit facility.