A common misconception about speech therapy is that it only addresses problems with the act of speaking. Not so. I find it particularly interesting that there are so many facets to speech therapy and what a speech therapist does as part of treatment.
What is a speech therapist? How can speech therapy benefit me or my loved one?
Speech therapists, also known as Speech Language Pathologists, are trained in areas of oral motor skills such as swallowing, cognitive communication and orientation such as memory and problem solving, fluency such as stuttering, literacy, social skills, articulation, and most obviously, speech. They can treat patients with any condition that could hinder their ability to communicate.
A speech therapist working in a skilled nursing facility would be less likely to treat literacy, stuttering, and articulation, yet more likely to treat memory and swallowing problems. They can teach individuals how to improve swallowing by working and strengthening their muscles thereby reducing the chances of choking or inhaling food or liquid, a problem seen frequently within skilled nursing facilities.
Common Diagnosis Treated by SLPs in a SNF
Speech therapists treat patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s, stroke patients, and several other diagnoses that can affect the patient’s cognition, memory, and speech. They also treat patients that have swallowing problems, also known as dysphagia. SLPs collaborate with physical therapists, occupational therapists, nursing, and family members regarding ways to improve the patient’s cognition, communication, and swallowing function. Who knew that you could seek help from a speech therapist for help with cognitive problems? I didn’t.
“A common misconception in regards to rehabilitation in the geriatric population is that Dementia patients cannot benefit from skilled speech pathology services. As a Speech Language Pathologist, it is our responsibility to evaluate and stage dementia patients so that other caregivers and families can engage in quality communication with these patients. Whether it be simplifying instructions, offering visual aides, utilizing memory books, or a host of other recommendations, we can empower nurses and families to continue meaningful communication with their loved one well into the advanced stages of Dementia,” explains Rachel, SLP.
When I ask our speech therapists about a typical day and the treatment plans for patients, I learned that there is no cookie cutter treatment plan that can be applied to all patients. Each patient is different; they each require different levels of care and focus in various areas. Working in a skilled nursing facility, therapists notice that needs change frequently. It is not uncommon for an elderly person to have the occasional bout of confusion, but when a therapist or family member begins to notice a change in behavior, communication, or weight loss, this could be a red flag and a sign that speech therapy is needed.
Weight loss is a red flag…Other things you may not have known
If a patient shows signs of sudden weight loss, this could indicate that he/she is having difficulty with swallowing, therefore is not maintaining a sufficient caloric intake in order to maintain a healthy weight. This happens frequently in the nursing home and our speech therapists communicate with nursing regarding ways to maintain the patient’s nutrition and hydration when necessary. That is why in a skilled nursing facility, it is important for the speech therapist to conduct regular screenings in order to notice if a patient has had a sudden decline of any sort. Sometimes, this may require a little troubleshooting.
When I asked if there was a specific tool or method of treatment found particularly helpful, one of our therapists said she often uses newspapers and magazines as part of treatment to increase orientation and knowledge of current events for opportunities for conversation with peers and family members. Most of us are unaware that this seemingly simply daily activity is something that speech therapists can incorporate into treatment.
After learning so much about the profession and expertise of a Speech Language Pathologist, I find myself very impressed with their work and I’m am very happy to know and work with such a unique and specialized group of people!
“One of the greatest rewards as an SLP is affording the patient the opportunity to return to oral intake. One of life’s greatest pleasures is the ability to eat the foods we love. Many of our patients with neurological disease processes suffer from dysphagia and experience aspiration resulting in diet modification or even feeding tube placement. Through the use of oral motor and pharyngeal exercises and other techniques we can often times return patients to safe and normal oral intake of their favorite foods,” Rachel Manuel, SLP.
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To read more about speech therapy, take a look at “What is an SLP and What Do They Treat?”.