May 1, 2023
Many seniors live with the effects of strokes, brain injuries, dementia and/or other neurological disorders. With these conditions, it is common to lose the ability to speak or understand spoken and written language. Speech can also be affected by the natural aging process. Speech-language therapists can help seniors improve their communication skills with a proper evaluation and treatment plan.
What is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy is a rehabilitation process that addresses problems with speaking and swallowing. As we age, our vocal cords can become less elastic, and our muscles may weaken. These problems can lead to difficulty in swallowing and speaking. Speech therapy can help seniors re-learn how to speak using vocal exercises and can stimulate and improve speaking, reading, writing, comprehension and cognition.
Benefits of Speech Therapy
- Strengthen vocal cords – vocal cords tend to become less elastic as we age, and the larynx muscles can weaken. Speech therapists focus on exercises to increase the strength of these muscles.
- Improve swallowing – it is common for seniors to develop difficulties with swallowing and chewing as we age. Speech therapy focuses on exercise to improve swallowing and reduce the risk of choking.
- Improving speech – Dysarthria is a term for lack of coordination in the muscles that produce speech. These difficulties arise from a sensorimotor problem, i.e., weakness or paralysis. This condition causes issues with communication, such as unintentionally substituting one word for another. The pitch and speed of speech can also be affected.
- Improvement for those that have suffered from a stroke – Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects the person’s ability to communicate, most commonly following a stroke. A stroke may damage part of the brain that controls speech function, and the effects vary depending on the exact location of the damage. Speech therapy is often ordered immediately following a stroke, as it is possible to recover speech following a stroke. Still, it is crucial to begin treatment immediately to increase the chances of recovery.
- Dementia management – It can benefit those suffering from dementia to undergo speech therapy. Treatment may help preserve brain function associated with communication. It may also help address the cognitive aspects of communication, such as attention, problem-solving and memory.
- Weight loss prevention – Because decreases in your swallowing muscles may not be evident from the outside, seniors may have more trouble swallowing without even realizing it. This issue can result in extreme weight loss and poor nutrition. Speech therapists may suggest strategies for specific postures and paces while eating. These are the first live interventions to maintain their nutrition, reducing the risk of further impairments.
Improvement in this area is vital for the overall health and wellness of seniors to allow proper communication with families, physicians and care providers.