Breaking down barriers; local carer teaches sign language to seniors | Local News

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Troy, Mo.- Alzheimer’s is a relentless, unbiased disease affecting more than 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65. There is no known cure, the best treatment being preventative measures. However, there are a myriad of practices to lessen the consequences of the disease. Nikki Coghlan, a caregiver of elderly dementia/Alzheimer’s in the Lincoln County area, is working to establish an unusual form of therapy for her patients; this therapy is American Sign Language.

The Arbors at Sugar Creek is an assisted living facility located in Troy for seniors with dementia. Coghlan has been teaching sign language to residents since October 2021 with varying success. “[Because of their] dementia or Alzheimer’s, they have difficulty remembering short-term memory; that’s what’s lost,” Coghlan said of his patients. According to Coghlan, this regresses many affected people into a child-like state.

Coghlan was inspired to teach residents ASL (American Sign Language) after successfully teaching it to her baby before he learned to speak. Scientific evidence from a plethora of scholarly sources supports the positive impact of learning sign language on babies, and Coghlan believes the same benefits can be granted to older adults who forget words due to dementia.

As a sophomore, Coghlan was tutored by a teacher who lived on the streets near her childhood home in central Texas.

“I had a best friend named Tiffany. [when I was a kid] and she was totally deaf. I wanted to talk to him; she fascinated me when I was young,” Coghlan shared. Certainly, she never imagined she would be using ASL to communicate with Alzheimer’s patients decades later.

Joan Smith committed to The Arbors in February and has studied ASL with Coghlan weekly, often daily, since Smith’s arrival.

“There have been different levels of success, but Joan is my greatest success,” Coghlan smiled as she stood alongside Smith at the breakfast table. Smith’s condition sometimes causes him to eat with his hands and often causes him frustration by not communicating his desires. However, Coghlan taught him ASL for words such as fork, water, coffee, good, bad, delicious, gross, clothes, and more. When Smith is unable to understand or verbally convey these ideas, she uses sign language to communicate.

Smith’s husband, Scott Smith, was originally skeptical of his wife’s ability to learn sign language, saying: ‘I was Joan’s carer for over five and a half years and found myself said it wouldn’t happen. I was wrong, I was wrong; I was amazed by the progress [Coghlan] did with Joan. After seeing its effectiveness, Scott teaches himself sign language and has already used it several times to communicate with his wife.

In reference to Coghlan, Scott hails her as “a go-getter”, stating, “This woman is an energizing bunny.”

The practice of teaching ASL to people with dementia has yet to be fully scientifically investigated, but a small handful of healthcare practitioners across the country have shared their measured success with this method via the internet. . With empirical evidence supporting the effectiveness of ASL in these situations, Coghlan’s, “The goal is that [all] Old person [living facility] work on the implementation [ASL] in their treatment programs.

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