We are very grateful to Kristine Pedersen from Kommunikationscentret in Denmark for sharing the findings of 2 projects with us. The first project found Talking Mats was effective in supporting communication for people who have dementia when compared with both unstructured and structured conversations.
‘t is important to know how to give people with dementia the right support’
At Kommunikationscentret in Hillerød (Denmark), we have been using the Talking Mats framework since our first trainer was accredited at the Talking Mats Centre, University of Stirling in 2010. We have been using Talking Mats with both children and adults across a range of communication difficulties e.g. caused by Aphasia, Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, learning difficulties etc. Inspired by the important research project by Dr. Joan Murphy and others ‘Decision making with people with dementia’ (2010), our next step was to gain our own experience within the framework specifically aimed towards people with dementia.
As in the rest of the world, the number of people in Denmark with dementia is increasing. Symptoms of dementia vary from person to person but many of the symptoms are related to communication: Difficulties finding words, using familiar words repeatedly, losing track in conversation, difficulties in focusing and paying attention etc. The growing dependence of the person with dementia on a caregiver makes communication essential to express wishes and needs. Therefore, it makes sense to look at the consequences of the illness (dementia) within the perspective of communication and how family members and professionals around the person with dementia can support communication using AAC.
The purpose of the first project was to compare the communication in conversations about views on I) Daily activities and II) The importance of information, using three different communication methods. The methods were: 1) unstructured conversation 2) structured conversation 3) the Talking Mats framework. The project involved 6 participants having early to moderate stage dementia, all living in residential care homes.
Like the study ‘Decision making with people with dementia’ (2010), the report concludes that the Talking Mats method was associated with better communication for the majority of the participants. The Talking Mats framework was found especially helpful regarding the participant’s ability to understand subject and question of the conversation, the participant’s ability to reflect, and the participant’s ability to make themselves understood. The graph below shows that only one participant (A1) did not benefit from the visual method. She had poor eyesight, which strongly indicates that visual support compensates the difficulties that people with dementia have.
The report also concludes that the Talking Mats framework increases the interviewer’s ability to detect and compensate for some of the communication difficulties. Finally, it seemed that several of the participants have been able to learn how to use Talking Mats in the process.
The photo underneath shows a Talking Mat conversation from the project. This Talking Mat gives an insight into how this person feels about what information is important to her, and what isn’t. It is in some way a difficult and abstract question, but most of the participants managed to both understand, reflect and answer the question when we used the Talking Mats framework.
Important information to this participant is information about new neighbours, the menu at the residential care home, economy etc. Less important is news about the Danish royal family, technology, getting older etc. Politics is definitely not important to her.
We are delighted that Nick Stewart, Director, Software and Products with Arum Systems, the IT Consultancy who have built the Digital Talking Mats has chosen TM as his favourite project for a case study.
Here is an extract from his case study describing the Challenge and Process of working with Talking Mats.
The Challenge The challenge was taking the existing physical Talking Mats tool and building a digital application suitable for multiple platforms, while maintaining the core ethos of the tool. A significant amount of academic research went into creating the physical product and those principles had to be present in a digital version. The applications had to be extremely intuitive to use and enable better conversations for people with communication difficulties. The aim was to create 3 digital versions; a browser based version for laptop users and a tablet version for iPad users and Android users. Each application would connect to a cloud server, allowing users to log in from any device, and the tablet versions would allow offline working through syncing with the cloud when a connection was available. There was a requirement to set up a multi-tiered subscription based user account system to match the intended charging model for the digital app. Our Process Arum’s approach was to totally immerse ourselves in the Talking Mats business to understand their goals, ethos and objectives. We took time to learn how the Talking Mats ecosystem worked and how they wanted to engage with their customers. By applying our 3D Methodology we were able to break down the deliverables into phases allowing the key building blocks to be delivered first. This also allowed the best use of budget and reduced the time to market the new product.
We are very grateful to David Brennan, a Dementia Support Worker from Ayrshire for this powerful blog.
Over the years our service has supported many people with a diagnosis of Dementia, now and then we encounter individuals whose cognitive difficulties have greatly affected their ability to communicate. This can (in some cases) result in distress for the services user and their families, distress that could be reduced or even avoided if the individual had a way of being understood by those around them.
As a service we welcomed the opportunity to engage in the Talking Mats Training and as a Dementia Support Worker I was eager to have a tool that could help me overcome communication obstacles, having experienced situations where those I support become so frustrated because they desperately want to relay a piece of information, but simply cannot find the words to express themselves.
I saw talking Mats as a communication system for those who struggle with speech. However, after using the practice in a practical environment I realise that I have had underestimated its potential, for it has much wider applications in our role.
My first experience of using Talking Mats was when producing the video for the second training session. I enlisted the help of a gentleman from the neighbouring Day Care centre.
We had never met prior to the session. The Gentleman had no communication difficulties that I was aware of.
Using the Talking Mats acted as an instant ice breaker, giving two complete strangers a reason to sit down and interact together, quickly striking up a rapport. The Gentleman appeared at ease and was happy to talk in detail about the tiles for the chosen subject of ‘Leisure Activities’
The activity revealed more than expected though. Through the course of the conversation he voiced feelings on things he was perhaps not happy with. I discovered he was unhappy that he did not get out in the open air enough due to poor mobility and that he would have preferred to see musicians coming into his Day Care Centre. This was crucial feedback
It occurred that Talking Mats also had an effective use in the assessment and quality assurance process that exist within services, providing crucial feedback for continued person-centred planning.
Taking this on board I considered examples of service users within my current caseload where the activity could prove beneficial.
I have been working with one gentleman for many months. He could be described as a Man’s man, someone who often replies to attempts at conversation with short responses, even when speaking with his wife. He may struggle to remember the names of people and places but he typically has little other difficulty in communicating.
I attempted the same topic with this man. Much of the answers were as expected. He spoke about football and his favourite team, but the structure of the Talking Mats encouraged him to open up about some of the smaller details that until now he hadn’t felt the need to disclose.
In the most recent example I was asked to take part in a colleague’s Talking Mat video for her training. She is one of our newest members of staff and although we have already developed a good working relationship the activity allowed her more insight to the nature and history of her co-worker.
For my experience, as someone who can struggle with sensory stimulation, it allowed me to express some of my needs and obscure preferences (around the office and in general) in a safe environment where I felt able to communicate what would normally be very personal information. And to have someone listen and thoughtfully consider this was a rewarding experience too.
As a service, new to the Talking Mats system, we are just scratching the surface of how we can best implement this into our roles, but the possibilities are already multiplying at a rapid pace, almost as much as the benefits we are seeing.
This post is about the importance of the Talking Mats blog and how it can be used as a rich resource of information for anyone interested in communication. One of the first ‘tasks’ that I was asked to do after starting my new job at Talking Mats was to create and give a presentation to an international audience of trainees at our most recent course for Accredited Trainers. I had only been in post for 2 weeks and I was also a trainee on the course, so the pressure was on!
The main aims of the presentation was to promote the Talking Mats Blog as a source of rich information which is accessible to anyone, that Accredited Trainers can use it in their own training courses, and also to encourage Accredited Trainers to write their own blog posts to describe how they use Talking Mats in their working and personal lives.
I wanted to try and make the presentation look a bit more dynamic than the usual ‘death by PowerPoint’ that can sometimes occur after a whole day of looking at slides! I decided to use Prezi, “a cloud-based presentation software and storytelling tool for presenting ideas on a virtual canvas”, as I’d had good feedback about it when I had used it in the past and thought this would be a perfect opportunity to roll it out again. You can see the completed presentation here.
When the day came to give the presentation, I wasn’t feeling on top form after having flu for a few days previously. Because of this my memories of it are rather hazy (which isn’t good for the purposes of writing a blog about the presentation!) but from what I’ve heard, apart from looking ill, I managed to get my points across without confusing (or frightening) the audience!
It was a fantastic opportunity to take part in the Accredited Training course and to hear the stories of all the trainees who are dedicated to using Talking Mats to improve the lives of the people they help on a daily basis.
I’ve also just found out that the team at Talking Mats have been blogging for 4 years, so get reading!