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How speech therapy can improve communication

As our parents age they can face challenges that make speech more difficult. Speech and language therapist Laura Dawson explains how to identify the issues and how our parents can be helped.

Why is communication important?

Communication is vital. We communicate our decisions, needs and opinions verbally. It’s the basis of forming relationships. When anyone loses their voice, they risk losing their independence and their relationships. It’s important to remember that communication is a two-way process – it’s about expressing, but also understanding, a message.

If your parent is struggling with communication, there could be a number of causes:

  • their actual speech has become impaired (i.e. the sounds that come out of their mouth) due to weak muscles of the mouth
  • the language they use to convey a message is impaired
  • their ability to understand a written or spoken message is affected
  • their cognition (attention/memory) is impaired
  • the voice itself has deteriorated

What causes communication problems?

With age, the voice can deteriorate (presbyphonia) and older people may struggle to find the right words to say. It may take them longer to process incoming information or even remember what they were saying. This is all part of normal ageing, but the degree to which this happens can vary from person to person. A visual or hearing impairment can also affect their ability to communicate.

Sometimes though you may find your parent struggling to communicate well as a result of disorders such as

  • dementia
  • stroke
  • progressive neurological disorder (e.g. Parkinson’s disease)
  • head or neck cancer.

How can a speech and language therapist help?

A speech and language therapist can provide direct therapy for the individual and/or training for those around them.

The therapy is aimed at enabling the patient to process and access information according to their needs, just like we might make writing larger for someone who has a visual impairment.

The goal is to identify what level of information someone can or cannot understand and what you can do to help with their understanding. Not every strategy works for everyone, so it’s important for the therapist to undertake an assessment to work out the best plan and approaches to therapy, in order to maintain or improve the patient’s communication success.

How do we access speech therapy services?

Speech therapy services for communication can be accessed via a written referral from your parent’s consultant or their GP. If your parent is an inpatient in hospital, you may be able to ask their medical team to refer them onto the acute speech therapy team for input, if appropriate.

Your parent may be placed on a waiting list to be seen for communication. The length of time you will wait for an appointment can vary between local services. Alternatively you can seek input from a private speech and language therapist by visiting www.helpwithtalking.com.

Laura Dawson offers private assessment and therapy for adults and children from three clinic locations in Brentwood, Southend and Upminster in Essex, as well as a home visit service across Essex and Kent. Visit www.sltconsultancy.co.uk for more details.

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