Tag Archives: Eating and Drinking

Using Talking Mats to Empower People with Dementia to Actively Participate in Decision Making

think symbol

Many thanks to Mary Walsh, Health Service Executive (HSE) Senior SLT at St Mary’s Hospital, Dublin for this fantastic blog post about their project involving use of Talking Mats to support people with Dementia to participate in decision making related to their needs:

In September 2016 Aideen Lawlor (SLT Manager) and I (Senior SLT) won the Dementia Elevator award with a project entitled “Empowering Persons with Dementia to become more Active Participants in Decision Making Related to Their Present and Future Needs.” with Talking Mats being an integral part of this project. In November 2017, the prize money was used to fund my training to become an accredited Talking Mats trainer so that I could then train others in TM Foundation Course on a prioritised basis.

This project is now complete with 6 speech and language therapists (SLTs) from a variety of settings working with persons with dementia all trained in using Talking Mats. As part of their training, The SLTs used TM with patients/ residents with particular reference to the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015. TMs were also used to help the clinicians to get to know their patients, in care planning, in improving increased opportunities for interaction and in improving choices and decision making. In effect, we were checking it out!

All the SLTs found that when TM principles are followed, that it helped to empower people with dementia to make decisions about their care. Some of the reported findings:

  • That the pictures help maintain attention and aid comprehension.
  • That it facilitated strengths rather than a deficit model.
  • That photographed completed TM provided a pictorial record for meetings – very positive.
  • That it provided a significant catalyst for change in some instances.
  • That it helped people with dementia and responsive behaviour get needs met
  • That video recording sessions with consent greatly enhances reflective practice and may be helpful in key decision making

Dublin blog photo

The next phase is to expand the number of SLTs who can provide training in Talking Mats across the Republic of Ireland. Funding from the national SLT professional body training grant scheme has been sought for these 6 SLTs to become trainers for Talking Mats. This will result in cascading training on a priority basis, increase evidence base/ knowledge re using TM and embedding TM in variety of clinical settings with SLTs leading this practice.

Mary Walsh,

Senior speech and language therapist,

St. Mary’s Hospital,

Phoenix Park, Dublin 20,



Aideen Lawlor

Speech and Language Therapy Manager


If you are feeling inspired and are interested in accessing Talking Mats training, we offer Foundation Training courses throughout the UK and Ireland as well as online – take a look here for more details:


Once you have accessed Foundation Training you can apply for our Accredited Trainers course to enable you to deliver Talking Mats training to others in your area.

Talking Mats ‘Weigh to Health’ for adults with a learning disability


Many thanks to Shirley Rush Health Facilitator at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust for this great blog about using TM as a ‘weigh to health’.

Following my Talking Mats (TM) training I had the opportunity, as a health facilitator, to use TM in an adapted ‘Weigh to Health’ course. This course encouraged people with learning disabilities to make small changes to their lifestyle and to educate them on the effects of obesity and their health.

Prior to commencing the group work we met with each person and completed a Talking Mat. The topic was to explore “Important things to lose weight”, we used a wide range of symbols and included physical activity, health conditions and appearance. Clients also requested additional symbols were added including alcohol, cycling and mood, which made the mat individual to them.


A photograph was taken of the completed TM to act as a record of what was important to them. On completion of the group the TM was repeated with each person using the same topic and symbols and the mat was again photographed. When we compared the TMs it showed that all the client’s knowledge and understanding of the effects of obesity and the health benefits associated with weight loss had increased.
“it done me good, helped me to lose weight by talking about my health and the need to lose weight to look after my heart”

The use of the talking mat was a valuable resource, it allowed each client to make an informed choice about participating in the group work. One client said he felt he had been listened too and “it done me good, helped me to lose weight by talking about my health and the need to lose weight to look after my heart”. By using TM in this way we have been able to use this information to demonstrate outcomes and it shows the information was presented at a level of understanding suitable for the client group. On an easy read questionnaire about the course all the clients agreed that doing the TM was useful, one person wrote “loved doing the mat”.

If you want to get more information from Shirley contact her at Shirley.rush@belfasttrust.hscni.ne

Talking Mats Eating and Drinking resource – a review


The Talking Mats Eating and Drinking resource provides insight into what service users perceive their difficulties to be and can help raise issues that care providers are unaware of.

Gillian Callander, speech and language therapist wrote the following  review.

I have used this Talking Mats resource with adults with learning disability and it has been a valuable tool in discussing issues that they have with their eating and drinking and in providing a focus for discussion. It helps understanding of what can be an abstract and complex subject and can aid the planning of next steps.

There are 3 symbol sets included with the resource

  • Meals
  • Health
  • Things that might help

I have also used this resource with additional personalised symbols to discuss potential specific changes to eating and drinking and to gather information about how the service user would feel about this. There were blank symbols included with the resource which can be used for this purpose.

The symbols in this pack provide a range of subjects to be discussed and are clearly categorised. I have found that for the service users I work with that the “meals” set and “things that might help” have been the most relevant and easiest for discussion and the symbol sets provided ably support this. The “health” category is a little bit more abstract and is harder to discuss with this client group, particularly if this issue is one that may occur but currently is not causing any difficulties. However, it does provide a basis and support for this discussion and helps to tackle issues that are more complex and abstract.

I have found that using this Talking Mats resource has provided increased clarity during discussions with service users about eating and drinking and it provides service users with a more consistent method to express feelings about eating and drinking and the impact of any difficulties. It also supports me by giving a way to convey the information about concerns or potential changes to eating and drinking using the same method of communication as the service users, thus providing a method to enhance two way communication and facilitate discussions. It helps to ensure, that as far as possible, service users are able to input into the discussion about their eating and drinking and to make their opinions known. Using the Talking Mats has helped to provide evidence that service users do/do not understand the information being presented and can help decide outcome with regard to capacity for decision making.

Based on my experience of using this resource, I would recommend this as a valuable addition to your eating and drinking assessment tools.

Gillian Callander

We are holding a specialist Dysphagia and Decision Making training which includes the Eating & Drinking resource. Please follow this link to book your place


Or download this flier and registration form: Dysphagia and Decision Making flier




Work with adults ? Top 10 Talking Mats blogs


What are the top 10 blogs for using Talking Mats with adults? Over the years we have posted lots of blogs on different aspects of our framework . If you are working with adults with communication disability these blogs maybe particularly helpful

  1. Where is the best place to start using the Talking Mats health and well-being resource? 
  2. A blog from Denmark which highlights the effectiveness of using Talking Mats with people with dementia
  3. Goal setting with a woman with Multiple sclerosis  
  4. Using the  app with someone with aphasia 
  5. The development of a resource to help people with learning disability raise concerns 
  6. How can Talking Mats support Capacity to make decisions
  7.  Involving  people in their decisions about eating and drinking 
  8. Thoughts on using Talking Mats with people with dementia to explore mealtimes 
  9. Using Talking Mats with someone with a learning disability and dementia
  10. Use  in a rehab setting in South Africa 

If you want to explore our  resource and training more  please visit our shop

Talking Mats Specialist Seminars


Following the success of previous seminars we are holding further specialist seminars in Stirling and London for anyone who has done the Talking Mats training. The topics will be:

  • Talking Mats and the Eating and Drinking resource (morning)
  • Talking Mats and Capacity (afternoon)

During the Eating and Drinking seminar, we provide background on how and why the resource was developed and showed some DVD examples of people using the resource. This really brings things to life and shows how important it is to give people (with and without speech) the opportunity to consider and talk about different aspects of eating and drinking. We also give people hands-on practice in using the symbols from each topic. Each participant will receive a copy of the full Eating and Drinking resource, including symbols, a mat, and explanatory booklet.

During the Capacity seminar we will discuss the fundamental principles of the Capacity Act and participants will have a chance to consider how Talking Mats can help people to:

  • understand
  • retain/remember
  • weigh up information
  • communicate their views/wishes and feelings.

They will also be given the opportunity to work through some practical examples and think about options to help people understand issues and make decisions.


If you have completed a Talking Mats training course and would like to attend either of specialist seminars, please click on the relevant course and fill in the registration form.

Stirling on Friday 29th April Stirling Seminars flier Apr 2016
London on Friday 10th June London Seminars flier June 2016
Registration form Seminar registration form 2016