As a Caregiver, you could be tasked with finding specialists to help your loved one develop a better quality of life regardless of their condition. In this new Caregiver Resource series, we’ll be introducing specialists who are experts in their field and can help you better understand what they do and how they can help your family. In this article, we’ll hear from Rachel Wynn, a speech-language pathologist who specializes in geriatric care.
Rachel Wynn,MS CCC-SLP
When I say speech-language pathologists (SLP) or speech therapists, what do you think about? Most people think about clinicians helping kids articulate words correctly or reduce stuttering. These are things that SLPs do, but not all of us.
I am a speech-language pathologist specializing in adult care - specifically the geriatric population. I have worked in the ICU, neuro rehab hospital with patients after a brain injury or stroke, and in skilled nursing facilities. Most of my patients think they “talk just fine” and don’t need an SLP until I explain how I can help them.
Here are 8 things you probably didn’t know about SLPs and their work with the geriatric population. SLPs are experts in swallowing disorders, or dysphagia. You might call us “swallowologists”. We understand all of the muscles and timing of a normal swallow and how diseases like stroke, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s effect the swallowing process. We do x-ray tests called Modified Barium Swallow Studies to see what is going on during a swallow. We recommend strategies to make swallowing easier and exercises to improve swallowing function. SLPs are highly educated. SLPs have the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in communication disorders and a graduate degree in communication disorders. They are often licensed by the state and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). ASHA has a special interest group for SLPs specializing in gerontology. SLPs help adults with their speech. Diseases like Parkinson’s and stroke may cause changes in someone’s speech. SLPs can help people speak clearer, slower, and louder. We use a variety of tools and exercises to accomplish this goal including exercises and improving respiration, or breathing. SLPs can help people with dementia. SLPs cannot “cure” dementia, but we are able to help patients and families cope with dementia better. We are experts in memory, attention, and problem solving. These are areas that are frequently impaired with dementia. We have techniques to help patients remember important pieces of information and strategies to help people compensate for impaired memory. SLPs help people become more independent. There are many reasons that a person may become more confused and have trouble taking care of tasks like personal finance, medication management, and cooking. SLPs can help improve a person’s ability to do these tasks more accurately with less assistance. SLPs know exactly what you mean when you have a word on the tip of your tongue. SLPs work with expressive (talking, writing) language and receptive (listening, reading) language. We help people improve their communication, so their voice can be heard. No matter their disabilities each person’s voice is important. SLPs make therapy fun. Therapy is tough work if you want to see improvements, but we try to make it fun with games. This includes iPad apps. I’ve gotten a few patients hooked on using the iPad to help them do their therapy homework and maintain their progress. SLPs are just one member of a patient’s treatment team. SLPs work with doctors, nurses, physical therapists, psychotherapists, occupational therapists, registered dietitians, respiratory therapists, and social workers to make sure you get the best care. And of course we work with the two most important members of the healthcare team - the patient and their family.
If you have any questions about speech-language pathology, please contact me. Or if you are interested in finding a speech-language pathologist in your area, you can use the Find a Professional tool on the ASHA website.
Rachel Wynn, MS CCC-SLP is speech-language pathologist specializing in geriatric care. She blogs at Gray Matter Therapy, which strives to provide information about geriatric care including functional treatment ideas, recent research, and ethical care. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, or hiking with her dog in Boulder, CO.