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Sign language gives people with dementia a way to speak

July 1, 2016
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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Last Christmas Eve, the power went out at Silverado Aspen Park Memory Care Community in Salt Lake City. Community Administrator John “Alec” Stephenson looked for something to keep residents entertained.

“I just asked the residents if they would like to know how to sing some of the carols they had been singing in sign language,” Stephenson, who learned sign language after his son was born with a hearing problem, tells

It was so popular, Stephenson started offering a weekly hour-long class based on the American Sign Language University program. The class is part of Silverado’s Nexus program, designed for residents in the early stages of dementia build and maintain cognitive ability and quality of life. Learning a new language is proven to stimulate the cortex area of the brain. Sign language also works motor skills.

“Ive been amazed at the improvement in scores, in the quality of life, the joy, the feeling that we get from it,” says Stephenson, who holds a national certification as a Primary Care Physicians Assistant with a specialization in psychiatry, and also serves on the Utah Health Facility Administrator Licensing Board.

“Having dementia does not mean the opportunity to live a full and meaningful life is over, and our program offers a unique way of helping achieve that goal,” Stephenson says.

Glen Slight is one of about 20 residents who attends Stephenson’s class each week.

“I’m very slow at it,” Slight says. “He has the patience of Job to help us do this. I love it.”



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