Communication and swallowing challenges are common among seniors and can lead to social withdrawal and isolation, which often causes further loss of communication ability. The individual may become upset because of not being able to hear or understand what others are saying, or because of having trouble expressing thoughts; equally important, family members/caregivers can experience frustration with these communication breakdowns. Communication impairments include difficulty with speaking and understanding as well as difficulty reading and writing. Declining hearing or eyesight can contribute to these changes, the effects of which can often be minimized by specific communication techniques and by using devices such as hearing aids and eyeglasses.
Some communication problems can arise from depression, infections or medications (can cause confusion or fatigue which can make it hard to understand others and to express clearly). These can be temporary or reversible.
Other communication problems are caused by structural or neurological damage (e.g. stroke, brain tumors, head trauma). While these conditions tend to result in permanent impairments, there are strategies and approaches that the Speech Language Pathologist can use to help the individual and family/caregiver cope with and even overcome specific communication barriers and make tremendous improvements in how they interact and stay engaged with others and the world around them.
With progressive disease processes (e.g. Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS, Alzheimer’s) there is gradual decline in communication and swallowing abilities as opposed to sudden onset. Our treatment approach is different in these cases whereby we optimize functioning along the continuum of decline and also counsel around what to expect moving forward. At times looking at incorporating and training on augmentative communication systems so our client has learned how to use these systems before speech capabilities are no longer functional.
As we age, swallow function becomes slower and slightly weaker. Aging, in itself, does not cause dysphagia (swallowing disorder), but aging does make you more susceptible to dysphagia. Some of the common causes of disordered swallowing include stroke, head trauma, tumors, oral cancers, facial palsy, MS, ALS, PD, and Alzheimer’s. Assessment and treatment by the SLP assists in diagnosing a swallowing disorder, determining the optimal treatment approach (e.g. texture modifications, compensatory strategies, direct treatment) to reduce the risk for aspiration, assist the healthcare team in ensuring nutritional requirements are met and to optimize client comfort. Improvement of swallowing is integral to quality of life; many don’t recognize that swallowing disorders may be treatable .
It should never be assumed that just because a person has aged that they are not able to improve their communication or swallowing abilities. S.L. Hunter SpeechWorks has helped many seniors maintain their quality of life by assisting them with their communication and swallowing challenges. After completing an initial assessment, the SLP will develop a specific intervention plan tailored to one’s unique communication profile and individual communication and/or swallowing needs. Therapy may be one-on-one, or in a small group setting depending on the individual’s needs and preferences.