Many of us will recall this line with pleasure and hilarity. The Monty Python films are a piece of British comedy genius. Yet even famous, intelligent actors and actresses can be afflicted by disease. And as we and they live longer they may also be afflicted with progressive neurological disease. Terry Jones, who delivered the famous line quoted above, has recently been diagnosed with PPA.
Terry reports he has been living with a progressive decline in his language skills for some time. The Times article this weekend reported that he has been reading his lines from prompt cards for his most recent live performances of the Monty Python show. What a wonderful strategy he has been using to maintain his functional communication and continue in his job role. I wonder if he has non-fluent agrammatic variant of PPA. Reading aloud is often easier for this group. Although reading aloud can also support those with logopenic variant in retrieving the words they are searching for.
Unfortunately Terry Jones’ communication will continue to deteriorate. Speech and language therapy can provide genuine support. Provision of bespoke therapy tasks such as personalised word relearning, scripting, conversation training and communication aids may be useful. Speech and language interventions can maintain language, conversation, relationships, functional skills and a sense of self.
For the speech and language therapy community people such as Terry Jones can also help. We can tell our patients about him, many people find it reassuring to know there are others even someone like Terry Jones who had what they have. It provides a sense of community for many who will feel isolated by the condition. This is a man who can spread the word increase understanding and reduce stigma for others.
One of my favourite things is when I read something that says exactly what I would like to say or perhaps something I do say; but they have said it even better than I ever thought it could be said. I was recently reading an article that really excited me. I loved it from the moment I read the title: Will You Still Need Me When I’m 64, or 84, or 104? The Importance of Speech- Language Pathologists in Promoting the Quality of Life of Aging Adults in the United States into the Future (Bourgeois et al, 2016).
The authors of this article describe the breadth of the role of speech and language therapists (SLTs) working with people with dementia. They highlight the valuable contributions SLTs can make when people are pre- or just post diagnosis and describe the plethora of approaches that SLTs may take when working with people with dementia, their families and carers as the disease progresses. They emphasise the need for these interventions to be person centered and often focused on participation in day today communication activities.
The authors go on to explain some of the barriers to providing these services including the lack of knowledge within the speech and language therapy community themselves. The authors stress the need for a change in the training of SLTs. My favourite part of the article is where they suggest that clinicians should be trained in disorders according to the incidence of these conditions within the population as a whole. Dementia is effecting more and more individuals in our community. There are no cures, no preventative measures that have demonstrated success. We have little research examining the effectiveness of interventions to support people living with this condition. The authors of this article flag that more time needs to spent training SLTs in how to support people with dementia. We will be seeing more and more people with dementia on our caseloads and we need to know how to support them.
This article is a call to arms for SLTs. The authors encourage SLTs to develop research in this area, to become leaders in the field and to represent the SLT profession to a wider audience.
Reading this article is encouraging and motivating. I want to develop this research, I hope to become a leader in this field, and I would be honoured to represent the SLT profession. I am in!
Bourgeois, M., Brush, J., Douglas, N., Khayum, R. & Rogalski, E. (2016) Will You Still Need Me When I’m 64, or 84, or 104? The Importance of Speech- Language Pathologists in Promoting the Quality of Life of Aging Adults in the United States into the Future. Seminars in speech and language; 37(3):185–200.