How Being a Speech Pathologist Can Help the Elderly

by Beth Greenwood

As people age, they may develop normal changes in speech, language, memory or swallowing, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Some might also have a stroke or develop Parkinson’s disease or dementia, all of which can also affect their ability to communicate and swallow. Enter the speech-language pathologist, who can help with these problems.

Defining Normal

One of the important tasks for a speech pathologist is differentiating between conditions caused by normal aging and conditions caused by other problems, such as Parkinson’s disease. Hearing impairment, for example, is fairly common in adults. By age 75, 40 to 50 percent of older adults have hearing problems. Those with hearing deficits can appear to have communication problems because they don’t respond, but people suffering from dementia may display similar behavior. A speech-language pathologist can determine the reason for the problem.

Let's Talk About It

Stroke survivors often have aphasia -- difficulty speaking and understanding others -- according to the Jewish Home Lifecare website. Alzheimer’s, brain tumors and head injuries can cause similar effects. A speech pathologist will assess the patient and develop a plan to treat or manage the patient’s problem. Part of the assessment is to determine whether the patient can write, even if he can’t speak, or point to pictures of things he can’t name. In addition, the speech-language pathologist can help the patient, family and caregiver, who are often upset and frustrated at not being able to communicate with their loved ones.

Dehydration and Dysphagia

Dehydration can be life-threatening for an elderly person. A person who has dysphagia -- difficulty swallowing -- is more likely to become dehydrated. Other factors can also contribute to dehydration. Elderly people who have had a stroke, for example, may be unable to get up to get a glass of water. The speech pathologist can determine whether dysphagia is contributing to a patient's dehydration and might make recommendations for other ways to increase fluid intake, such as intravenously.

In the Sunset of Life

Speech-language pathologists often provide services to patients who are in hospice or facing end-of-life issues. Some patients in hospice need feedings through a feeding tube, while others need assistance with eating problems. In an end-of-life situation, the goal of the speech pathologist is to help the patient keep eating for as long as possible. Speech-language pathologists might also be part of the discussion about inserting a feeding tube or might devise a communication strategy so a patient whose speech is impaired can make his wishes known.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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