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Alzheimer's: Bridging The Language Barrier
By Jude Roberts
(Page 1 of 2)

As a caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, the difficulties of getting their attention and having them understand you and the professional members of the caregiving team can be a very real challenge. Along with these issues, what if there was also a communication gap caused not only by the disease, but by a language barrier? What if your loved one speaks another language other than English? Because of this, an experience with a doctor or professional caregiver can be very scary and frustrating for a loved one. The Alzheimer’s Association recognized the ever-emerging need for a translation service available to family caregivers, their loved ones, and the professional members of the caregiving team.

Cathy Sewell, Director of Client Services at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Headquarters in Chicago, says the “language line” was a natural progression created from a market study done in 1999. Cathy says the translation service came about “because of the Alzheimer’s Association’s diversity initiative to be culturally competent, reaching out to the under-serviced throughout the country.” Since the inception of the national “24-7” Contact Center 2-1/2 years ago, and with 150 different languages spoken throughout the country aside from English, Cathy went about the daunting task of creating an even more extensive translation service for family and professional caregivers. One of the requirements of the Alzheimer’s Association was to find a language service with the ability to translate the word “dementia” with compassion, and that this word needn’t mean “crazy” in any language.

The Alzheimer’s Association chose NetworkOmni Multilingual Communication as their partner. NetworkOmni is a global language solutions company with headquarters in California. NetworkOmni immediately made a great impression on the Alzheimer’s Association. “They weren’t only easy to work with, but they took a true interest in learning all about Alzheimer’s disease, wanting to know how they could help us better serve caregivers and the Alzheimer’s Community,” says Cathy, “and their personnel took the time and effort to inform their interpretive staff of all our concerns regarding the need for a compassionate translation service, along with the need for extreme sensitivity when dealing with caregivers and their loved ones.” The service is free to family and professional caregivers, with the Alzheimer’s Association absorbing the entire cost.

The “language line” works quite simply by organizing a three-way, conference call between the family or professional caregiver, a care consultant from the Alzheimer’s Association, and an interpreter from NetworkOmni. A caregiver calls the Alzheimer’s Association’s national Contact Center, speaks with a care consultant and requests the translation service, stating the specific language that is needed. The care consultant then calls NetworkOmni, with the caregiver still on the line, making sure that everyone is connected to one another.

One story that illustrates the “language line” concerns Alex Karski and his 86 year-old, Polish-speaking mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease just last year. For the past 20 years, she’s enjoyed the independence of living alone in Chicago, and still wants to maintain her routine. In order for her to remain independent for as long as possible, her son hired a Polish-speaking caregiver to aide his mother with the daily tasks of bathing, dressing, food preparation, and keeping up with medications. However, since the caregiver had no formal training in Alzheimer’s or dementia care, she found the man’s mother more and more difficult to work with, and she was unsure of how to handle the increasing demands that the disease was placing upon her. Alex noticed that the caregiver was becoming frustrated and short-tempered when dealing with his mother. He called the Alzheimer’s Association. Between the care consultant and the interpreter, they were able to educate the caregiver on the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, giving her several suggestions and communication tips. It was exactly what the caregiver needed, and since knowing that she has a place to turn to at all times, it has made all the difference in her ability to better care for and understand someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

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