How Does Speech Therapy Benefit Seniors?

senior

Speech therapy is usually associated with helping children or young adults to improve communication and resolve speech difficulties. However, there are many great benefits for seniors, as well. 

“Being able to communicate properly is essential in all aspects of life, but especially for seniors who may have health issues and need to make sure they are being understood,” says Janet McNemar, NHA, MBA, Executive Director at Saunders House in Wynnewood, PA. “There are a number of situations where a senior could benefit from speech therapy, such as after a stroke or if he or she is having cognitive issues.” 

The technical definition of speech therapy is “the assessment and treatment of communication problems and speech disorders.” It is performed by professional speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists (SLPs). 

There are many other reasons why speech therapy may be recommended for a senior, such as if he or she has weakened vocal cords or swallowing problems. “Speech therapy involves more than just dealing with the spoken language; it deals with all aspects related to the mouth, face and throat,” Janet says. 

Here are several different disorders for which speech therapy can be beneficial: 

Aphasia

About one-third of all strokes result in aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association (NAA). Aphasia is a disorder where the individual has difficulty finding the right words to express themselves, or their speech is unclear or halting. It also can impair a person’s speech comprehension, writing and reading abilities, gesturing and their use of numbers. It’s a very frustrating condition for the individual because he or she maintains the same level of intelligence they had prior to the condition – it’s just as if the pathways in the brain have been hijacked so they no longer work correctly. 

Speech therapy for aphasia revolves around helping a patient concentrate successfully to find the right word using compensatory strategies to communicate more effectively, as well as tools for responding to vocal and verbal cues. The goal is for the individual to reach a maximum level of functioning, which may or may not be the same level that they had prior to the stroke. Generally, it can take six months to a year to see improvement in the disorder. A speech therapist can use a variety of different techniques to assist the individual, including group therapy to improve conversational skills, drills to improve specific language skills with the use of writing and gestures to help augment communication skills, and if needed a communication board or assistive device.

Apraxia

Another common side effect following a stroke is apraxia. Individuals with apraxia have difficulty saying certain syllables or making certain sounds, use words out of order or have trouble moving their lips. The individual knows what they want to say; it just doesn't come out right. Treatment can involve sound repetition which then is used to transform sounds into words. Another treatment involves looking in the mirror when speaking, or recording the individuals speaking and then playing it back. A therapist will often do an oral-motor assessment to check for muscle weakness in the jaw, lips or tongue; a melody of speech assessment (using pitches and pauses); and sound assessment. 

Dysphagia

Most common with this population, Dysphagia can cause older adults to have difficulty swallowing for a number of different reasons. This can be because of a stroke, age-related changes to the mouth, a lack of saliva or “dry mouth” or other reasons. Not being able to swallow is a serious concern because it can lead to choking or not being able to get enough nutrients to remain healthy. A speech therapist can prescribe exercises to make the individual’s mouth stronger, recommend special positions for eating, teach patients strategies to overcome deficits, and suggest certain foods or provide modified utensils to help combat this problem. 

Dysarthria

Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that’s commonly seen in individuals with Parkinson’s or other diseases that affect the nervous system. The weakness or paralysis that result from these conditions can cause a slow rate of speech, slurred or mumbled speech, or speech that’s simply difficult to understand. A speech therapist will start by monitoring the individuals muscle and breathing patterns, and then have them repeat certain sounds. Other techniques often involve having the patient work on tongue and lip movement, breathing exercises and practicing speaking more slowly in order to properly form words. 

Dementia

Not many people realize that those with dementia can benefit greatly from speech therapy. This form of therapy can actually help someone stay as independent as possible. A speech therapist can work with the individual on problem solving, attention, memory and higher-level thinking skills. Some strategies that a therapist may use include:

●      Using written words or pictures to help carry out tasks

●      Practicing learning important information

●      Making "memory books" to help remember personal information

●      Training family members and caregivers on how to communicate better with the person with dementia by relying more on visual cues, simple words, familiar sounds and the like 

Therapists will also often work to make sure the individual with dementia can eat safely, since motor skills and muscles can be affected by the disease.  This is often done with therapy and diet modifications. 

Honoring Better Hearing and Speech Month at Saunders House

Being able to communicate successfully provides a higher quality of life and more personal satisfaction for everyone. At Saunders House, our RenewAll Short-Term & Medically Complex Care includes a variety of therapies including speech therapy.

In our program, our purpose and goal is to help each of our residents obtain and maintain independence and abilities as successfully as possible. To achieve this goal, our interdisciplinary care team develops personalized plans designed to meet each resident’s individual needs while focusing on measurable outcomes. 

The RenewAll program balances medical management and physical rehabilitation to treat a variety of conditions and needs, many of which speech therapy can greatly benefit. Our dedicated team includes a variety of professionals, including physical, occupational and speech therapists who are well-versed in the issues facing senior patients and are skilled at adapting techniques to better care for our residents. 

We encourage you to call us with any general questions you might have and to stay current on a variety of senior health and caregiver topics by viewing the latest articles on our website.

We’d Love To Hear Your Thoughts!

If you have comments or questions about our blog, “How Does Speech Therapy Benefit Seniors?” we’d love to hear from you. We also encourage you to share any of your caregiving experiences with us in our comments section.

Discover Our Healthy Tradition of Care and Wellness

Located adjacent to Lankenau Medical Center, Saunders House – part of Main Line Senior Care Alliance – has a celebrated tradition of providing exceptional care and services to seniors and their families. It’s a tradition we’re proud to continue.

Today, Saunders House offers a range of services, including short-term rehabilitation, traditional nursing care, restorative care, memory care, respite care, for individuals with visual impairments – all in a setting that is warm, welcoming and nurturing.

For more information on Saunders House, our short-term rehabilitation program and other professional services, please call us today at 610.658.5100 or contact us online.

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Disclaimer: The articles and tip sheets on this website are offered by Saunders House and Main Line Senior Care Alliance for general informational and educational purposes and do not constitute legal or medical advice. For legal or medical advice, please contact your attorney or physician.


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