Back A study led by UPF shows how caregivers’ prosodic variations can improve communication with Alzheimer’s patients
A study led by UPF shows how caregivers’ prosodic variations can improve communication with Alzheimer’s patients
Emma Rodero, full professor of Media Psychology and Neurocommunication at UPF and head of the Media Psychology Lab-UPF, is the director of a study that focuses on analysing whether Alzheimer’s patients are sensitive to the prosodic variations of the messages they receive and on understanding the importance that caregivers attach to communication with patients.
Coinciding with World Alzheimer’s Day, celebrated every 21 September, the results of a study led by Emma Rodero, full professor of Media Psychology and Neurocommunication at the UPF Department of Communication and director of the Media Psychology Lab-UPF, focusing on analysing whether Alzheimer’s patients are sensitive to the prosodic variations of the messages they receive, have been published.
The study, titled “Prosodic variations to improve the cognitive response and communicative interaction of Alzheimer’s patients with their caregivers”, was carried out by UPF (responsible body), together with the University of Salamanca (USAL) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). It has enjoyed funding by the Ministry of Science in Innovation and the collaboration of the State Reference Centre for the Care of Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias (CRE Alzheimer’s) of Salamanca, the Association of Relatives of Alzheimer’s Disease Patients of Salamanca (AFA Salamanca) and the Pasqual Maragall Foundation.
Emma Rodero: “The main goal of this project has on the one hand been to understand the importance that caregivers attach to communicating with patients and what is the most effective way they consider to communicate with them and, on the other, to study which prosodic variations improve the care given and the understanding by people with Alzheimer’s of the messages”.
Emma Rodero points out that “The main goal of this project has on the one hand been to understand the importance that caregivers attach to communicating with patients and what is the most effective way they consider to communicate with them and, on the other, to study which prosodic variations improve the care given and the understanding by people with Alzheimer’s of the messages”.
For this second goal, the study sought to determine different aspects concerning how Alzheimer’s patients can be affected by the prosodic variations of the messages they receive: whether they can improve their attention when they hear important information in the day to day; whether they can increase their motivation to perform certain actions; whether they can understand more when they are listening to certain messages; and finally, whether they can influence their emotional state, avoiding negative reactions.
“Our research examines the best way to talk to Alzheimer’s patients, so that they pay attention to and understand the message”, says Emma Rodero. The study involved a survey in which 252 caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients (professionals and family members) participated and an experiment in which 60 people took part (30 with Alzheimer’s - experimental group- and 30 without this form of dementia - control group-). This second, more experimental part, carried out mainly at the Media Psychology Lab-UPF, at the CREA and at AFA Salamanca, has enabled capturing the physiological response to different messages by means of electrodes that measured the heart rate and the nervous system, to control the emotional response and attention paid to the messages given to the participants.
How should the patient be spoken to and what should be avoided?
In the first part of the study, the results indicated that caregivers believe that communication is an essential factor in patient treatment and that their way of speaking largely conditions their behaviour.
Most say they should be spoken to with authority, but affectionately and positively. The prosodic strategies assessed as being most effective were slow speech, emphasizing important words, marked intonation, and a low tone.
In the second part of the study, the results indicated that people with Alzheimer’s disease considered more pleasant, paid more attention to and better understood marked prosodic strategies, whether it involves dynamic and varied intonation, a strong accentuation of the words, the hyperarticulation of the important words, speaking affectionately, moderate speed and intensity and with a medium-low tone. “The intonation, accentuation and emotion transmitted were the most effective strategies”, Emma Rodero assures.
Emma Rodero: “The intonation, accentuation and emotion transmitted were the most effective strategies”
Conversely, the least effective strategies were paternalistic speech, monotonous intonation, not stressing words, not articulating correctly, a tense voice, high intensity, fast speech and a high tone.
There were significant differences between the control and experimental groups. “Logically, people with Alzheimer’s understood the messages worse and their reaction time was longer than the participants that do not suffer this dementia. Nevertheless, the results were similar in terms of the effectiveness of the strategies, although with a more marked tendency in the case of people with Alzheimer’s”, Emma Rodero notes.
Ultimately, according to the director of the Media Psychology Lab-UPF, “This study highlights the value of communication in interacting with patients with Alzheimer’s and the need to pay attention to the communicative effectiveness of prosodic strategies to improve these patients’ cognitive and emotional response”.