When you hear the term “speech therapy”, you likely think of children overcoming a stutter or learning articulation skills. The natural digression in speech as one ages often can be corrected with speech therapy with very similar methods used to help children with articulation skills. As people age, there are both natural and medically caused events that take place that can lead to changes in speech, language, memory and swallowing. For example, both a stroke and Parkinson’s disease can lead to Dysarthria which is a condition in which the muscles used for speech become weak or difficult to control. In this article, we will explore some of the reasons speech therapy becomes necessary in the elderly and the value it brings to long term care and rehabilitation facilities.
More than 50% of nursing home residents have some form of dementia or cognitive impairment. Dementia is a term for diseases or conditions that are characterized by a decline in cognitive skills needed to perform daily activities (Alzheimer’s is the most common). This includes language, problem solving, memory and more. Speech therapy for dementia patients will stimulate cognitive ability through activities meant to improve memory and language skills. Speech therapy in dementia patients can drastically improve their quality of life in the beginning stages as it allows patients to hold onto their independence longer. The ability to communicate and be understood has a powerful effect on our overall well being.
Aphasia is a language disorder often caused by strokes that affect the ability to communicate. During a stroke, certain areas of the brain are damaged. If the language center of the brain is damaged, your ability to speak and communicate will be hindered. Speech therapy treatment for a stroke will include exercises that encourage other areas of the brain to take over the functions of speech and communication. Repetitive stimulation of the brain will help improve language skills created by a stroke.
Parkinson’s Disease causes damage to the nerves in the brain and the body. It directly affects the muscles required for speech which leads to soft and/or slurred speech, monotone, and other issues that make communication more difficult. Speech therapists will assist in both maintaining as many communication skills as possible while also teaching non verbal communication techniques. Another result of Parkinson’s Disease is losing control of throat and mouth muscles which can make swallowing a challenge. This leads us to our next item: Swallowing disorders.
Any nervous system disorder, including Parkinson’s disease and stroke, can lead to swallowing disorders, also called dysphagia. Swallowing disorders cause difficulty or even pain when swallowing which can lead to other medical issues. A speech therapist will evaluate the swallowing disorder and determine which stage of the swallowing process is being affected. Treatments and therapy are then personalized for each person’s specific needs. Treatment can include things like muscle exercises to strengthen facial muscles and/or improve coordination, preparing and eating a certain way, and more.
Benefits of Speech Therapy
Speech Therapy services in long term care and rehabilitation facilities are extremely beneficial to residents. Below are some of the highlights of effective speech therapy programs:
- Speech production for better communication
- Developing verbal expression to make wants and needs known
- Comprehension to be able to follow commands in assisting CNAs with Activities of Daily Living and safety
- Mental status for orientation to surroundings for decreased anxiety and safety
- Reasoning and problem solving for increased independence with Activities of Daily Living and safety awareness, decision making to avoid hazardous situations and potential dangers and falls
- Diet changes to avoid aspiration, improve intake, maintain/improve nutrition
- Signs/symptoms of aspiration – Educate CNA/nursing staff and family to ensure safest diet
- Compensatory strategies for increased independence during oral intake (chin tuck, alternating bites/sips, eating slowly)
At Camelot Senior Living, we have a team of qualified speech pathologists that create personalized recovery plans. If you would like more information or if your loved one is showing signs of speech, memory, language or swallowing issues, contact us for a one on one with our Therapy Director.