Summary of Kristina`s Research

Research Project Conducted by Kristina Kokorelias, McMaster University
It is common for older adults with dementia to retreat to speaking only in their mother
tongue, despite a lifetime of bilingualism. In two long-term care facilities, I explored
the use of bilingualism using five older adults with mild-moderate dementia who have
begun to abandon their English to only speak in Greek (mother tongue). An analysis
revealed that the home that encouraged residents to communicate in English more
frequently exhibited more English conversational exchanges. However, Greek residents
were less able to engage actively in group activities, as they were only offered in
English. In the multicultural site, opportunities to converse in English were limited. In
both sites, residents often responded in the language of the staff members. I also
examined the role of Montessori-based English language activities (based upon Gail
Elliot’s DementiaAbility™ concept) to try to encourage the conversational use of
English. Over ten sessions, participants did not improve in the level of difficulty of
graded Montessori tasks. However, four of the five participants showed an enhanced
ability to communicate in English for longer periods of time. This study contributes to
strategies for optimizing meaningful conversation for bilingual long-term care residents
with dementia. Moreover, the data suggest a change in the policy and practice for
dementia care so that there are more opportunities in English in non-English mothertongue facilities, on the one hand, and more attention to the specific language needs of
bilingual people in English dominant settings.