Mary Randolph uses her speech-language training as she cares for her mother and her grandson.
How often do we teach our young language students prediction skills? After 20 years as a speech-language pathologist in the Fairfield, Conn., public schools, I began predicting my retirement. Days filled with gratifying volunteer work, mastering the game of bridge, taking ballroom dance lessons, traveling worldwide and, most important, spending more precious time with my mom, who had recently turned 90 years old.
Maybe the difference in predicting the future versus predicting narrative events is that our personal story lines evolve in real time. We all know how life spins out of control. So, that's just what happened. Unfortunately, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease just a year following my retirement. We could not believe that the matriarch of our large, extended family no longer remembered her great-grandchildren, grandchildren or even her children.
My focus became discovering activities to improve the quality of her life. We consulted with neurologists, geriatric experts, the Alzheimer's Association and every relevant book and website possible. Mom enjoyed many of the recommended activities—simple gardening, folding laundry, sweeping, helping with food preparation, washing dishes—but her ability to enjoy leisure-time activities was clearly declining. Television shows no longer held her interest and it was clear that she could not process the language of books, newspapers and magazines. She had always loved word games, whether Scrabble, crossword puzzles or word searches, but even these were becoming frustrating.
Here's where my training and experience as an SLP kicked in. I retrieved some old therapy materials from the attic and began engaging her. All kinds of picture cards—"wh" questions, objects, actions and categories—became great conversation starters, and Mom clearly enjoyed looking at them, talking about them and making connections to her past. She was successful with tasks or questions involving divergent naming, convergent naming, cloze, idioms, similes, synonyms and antonyms. These activities helped keep her mind active, while providing a sense of productivity, personal meaning, social interaction and fun.
Lo and behold, I now face yet another unexpected path in which my speech-language pathology background is a blessing: babysitting for our first grandson, teaching him basic sign language and doing everything possible to stimulate his speech and language.
So much for my ability to predict retirement!