May 27th, 2011 at 8:57 am
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Speech language pathologists help others learn to communicate

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, and my 40-year career has afforded me the opportunity to see the field of speech pathology change, advance and grow. Today, the overall scope of speech pathology is extensive–covering every age group and demographic. Most of my experience is the area of home health care, and it has been both an interesting and rewarding experience. Each individual is unique–from those with mild impairments to those with more serious or progressive speech, language, memory or cognitive concerns.

Speech language pathologists (SLP) that specialize in working with the adult population provide evaluations and treatment in a wide variety of areas, such as voice problems, hearing loss, reduced speech intelligibility, language problems, cognitive deficits and swallowing difficulties. One of the primary goals is to help a person learn to communicate effectively, and achieving this goal often includes staff, family and caregiver education. A person may receive treatment in a variety of settings, from the hospital to rehabilitation centers, adult day care to assisted living centers.

In turn, why might someone be referred to an SLP?

Three reasons for SLP treatment

1. Individuals with speech and language problems

Speech and language problems come in different sizes, shapes and levels of severity. For example, some individuals may have may have trouble with the intelligibility of their speech as a result of a neurological problem such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Others may have a limited ability to speak, struggle to say even a single word, confuse words or use sentences that make little sense. It is important to remember these deficits may be so subtle that others do not realize there is a problem.

An assessment can determine how well the person understands spoken words as well determine reading comprehension. When there are deficits in these areas, there may be similar problems with the ability to provide written communication, such as the person’s ability to spell or use appropriate sentence structure and complexity.

2. Individuals with increased memory problems

My focus is to provide strategies to help increase and improve communication based on what the person is able to do. Frequently, a memory board and/or a memory book designed to aid in the recall of basic information will be recommended and created at the appropriate level for each person. In some cases, you may want to ask your physician for an assessment referral so you can get some practical information to handle the day to day frustrations with communication.

You might find additional useful information in “Aging Parents: Do These Changes Mean Something?“.

3. Individuals with swallowing problems

During the last decade, a significant part of my caseload has involved clients with swallowing problems–the causes of which vary greatly. If a person is experiencing some coughing, choking or frequent throat clearing on either solid foods or liquids, contact your physician for a further assessment.

Often, my patients have been discharged home after a diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia. In the home health area, my role may not only be to provide a specific exercise program to strengthen the muscles for swallowing but strategies to improve elder’s ability to swallow safely. The emphasis is on menu recommendations, focusing on how to make some foods more appealing for someone that might need pureed foods and/or thickened liquids.

One caregiver labeled me the “Martha Stewart of swallowing” when I used a variety of their foods along with my mini chopper and created something his wife would actually eat.

Visit the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association and the National Aphasia Association for additional information including resources within your state.

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