Review: Systematic Review of Verbal Communication between People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Caregivers

The study reviewed is an open access article available here and titled ‘Methods to Enhance Verbal Communications Between Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and their Formal and Informal Caregivers: A Systematic Review’ by Egan and colleagues. The researchers begin with a rather convincing discussion of the consequences of poor communication between the person with Alzheimer’s Disease and their caregivers and they highlight the importance of this subject. Various strategies for improving this communication are covered including the use of memory aids which are further detailed in terms of their possible mechanism of action.

The researchers enlist the help of a research librarian who constructs a search strategy for identifying relevant studies as part of a systematic review. The exclusion criteria are clearly stated although formal diagnostic criteria for dementia are not necessary in those studies included. Although this can cause a few difficulties in generalisation it is a reflection of the relative scarcity of quantitative studies in this area. The researchers are looking specifically for high quality quantitative studies that use measures of communication to assess the efficacy of interventions. They use an interesting approach whereby they assess the titles alone initially. If they think the study will be relevant, they go on to retrieve the abstract and then after this the articles. Two researchers assess each article and a third reviewer assists in the event of a disagreement. Those studies finally included are then assessed using specific criteria for rating the quality of studies.

The results are tabulated and then expanded on in the text. Two approaches are supported by a higher quality of evidence – the use of memory aids and breakfast clubs. The memory aids help to keep the person with Alzheimer’s Disease on topic for a longer period of the conversation although the collorary is that they are less likely to move off topic. The breakfast based activity group involved the ‘preparation and sharing of breakfast’ and was possibly beneficial as a result of the combined stimulation and opportunity for conversation. The researchers recommend further high quality research in this area. Although there are limitations on the results in terms of the methodologies of a number of the selected papers, the researchers are able to draw preliminary and practical conclusions whilst advocating the benefit of further research in this area.

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