With speech, language, and swallowing disorders common following stroke, head and neck cancer, and a variety of other illnesses and injuries, speech-language pathologist Isabel Hotop M.S., CCC-SLP, encourages individuals to learn the signs—and seek an evaluation—if they have concerns about themselves or a loved one. This is a timely message, as May is recognized nationally as Better Hearing and Speech Month.
“A person’s ability to communicate effectively is something that’s easy to take for granted until it’s compromised,” said Hotop. “Communication enables us to connect with others. It’s needed to learn, to earn a living, and to fulfill our basic wants and needs. Given this, it is critical that people know the signs of a communication disorder, and the availability of help from certified speech-language pathologists.”
The causes of speech and language problems that occur for the first time in adulthood can vary. They include brain injury, stroke, and diseases that affect the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. They can also stem from cancers of the head and neck, breathing problems, and vocal cord injury.
For adults, the signs of speech and language disorders may include the following:
problems saying sounds correctly
slurred or slowed rate of speech
problems coordinating mouth or speech movements
difficulty imitating speech sounds
struggles to get out sounds or words
repetition of sounds, words, or parts of words
changes in voice (e.g., hoarse, raspy, breathy, nasal, or low-volume voice)
trouble thinking of the words they want to say
problems expressing what they want or need
saying words in the wrong order
trouble following directions or conversations
difficulty understanding what others say
new trouble reading, writing, spelling, or using numbers
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) evaluate adults for communication disorders. They help their patients and clients get back the skills important to them for their everyday activities.
SLPs can help people with understanding questions, directions, conversations, and stories; expressing thoughts and words; and reading and writing. They can also help people find other ways to communicate if they are having difficulty with spoken or written communication. These may include pointing or using other gestures, drawing pictures, or using an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device.
Some adults may develop swallowing problems from the same illnesses or injuries that can cause communication disorders. Swallowing disorders, called dysphagia, can affect a person’s ability to eat, drink, and take medicine. Dysphagia is also diagnosed and treated by SLPs. SLPs can help a person with dysphagia strengthen their muscles to chew and swallow, identify strategies that make it easier or safer to swallow, and advise people on changes to the textures of their diet.
Memorial Hospital’s Therapy and Sports Rehab Center is now offering a new swallowing therapy modality with Ampcare’s Effective Swallowing Protocol (ESP) neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) treatment. NMES, as used in the treatment of dysphagia involves the administration of small electrical impulses to swallowing muscles in the throat through electrodes attached to the skin overlying the musculature. The therapist determines which musculature would benefit from this facilitation through a standard evaluation procedure, which typically includes a cranial nerve assessment and some form of instrumental assessment. The patient exercises the swallowing muscles for up to 30 minutes while receiving concurrent electrical stimulation. The electrical stimulation, when applied in this manner, accelerates muscle strengthening, cortical reorganization (especially after stroke), and neurovascular coupling thereby increasing the effectiveness of the therapy.
Some signs of dysphagia may include trouble moving food from the mouth to the throat, coughing during or right after eating or drinking, feeling like food is stuck in the throat, and pain or discomfort during eating or drinking.
“It’s important to remember that eating and drinking are not only necessary for us to live but also are often at the center of our social gatherings,” said Hotop. “Swallowing problems can improve tremendously with treatment from SLPs.”
Individuals who would like to schedule an assessment for a communication or swallowing disorder may contact Isabel Hotop at 618-826-4588. More information is available at www.asha.org/public.