5 Common Misunderstandings About Speech Therapy


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Speech language pathology, or speech therapy, is often associated with young children learning to speak for the first time. However, there’s much more to speech therapy and the work of speech language pathologists (SLPs) than this initial association.

In an effort to clear up some of the misunderstandings about this therapy and the help it can provide, we’ve identified the five most common misunderstandings older adults may have about speech therapy.  

Misunderstanding #1: Speech therapy is for people who lost their ability to talk

In fact, speech therapy is about much more than just the ability to talk — it’s about the ability to communicate. As Kendal at Lexington’s Director of Rehabilitation Therapy, Dr. Savleen Juneja puts it, “Speech therapists can treat people with any condition that could hinder their ability to communicate.” This includes writing, reading, organization, memory improvement, cognitive linguistic retraining, problem solving and voice resonance.

Misunderstanding #2: If you need speech therapy, you can’t live independently

Not true! Savleen says many people who could benefit from speech therapy have shied away from treatment because they are concerned how their potential communication deficits will be perceived. Since some of the communication struggles that speech therapy treats may be related to early stages of dementia, many older adults hesitate to seek help. However, seeking help from an SLP doesn’t mean you will lose your independence. “In fact, speech therapy can help maximize your potential and could even extend your ability to live independently with the strategies and treatments you learn,” Savleen says.

Misunderstanding #3: Speech therapy is only about communication

SLPs are trained in all areas of oral motor skills, including swallowing. For older adults who struggle with dysphagia — a medical term for difficulty swallowing — speech therapy can help. One of the earliest signs of dysphagia is coughing during or after drinking liquid. “When there is an incoordination between swallowing and breathing, or if you drink liquid and breathe at the same time, you are actually aspirating that liquid,” Savleen says. An SLP can help minimize these occurrences by teaching swallowing strategies. Some of these strategies include taking smaller sips and bites, tucking your chin to your chest and chewing for a total of 32 times before swallowing.

Misunderstanding #4: Being diagnosed with dysphagia means you’ll have to downgrade your diet

Another reason older adults sometimes don’t seek out speech therapy is because they are worried they’ll have to only eat pureed food if diagnosed with dysphagia. Again, not true! The swallowing strategies speech therapy teaches are designed to help you continue eating normally, but safely. “A speech therapist can provide the education and precautions you need to prevent choking episodes,” Savleen says.

Misunderstanding #5: People diagnosed with dementia cannot benefit from speech therapy

Speech therapy strategies can be beneficial, even for people in advanced stages of dementia. “We can empower nurses and family members to continue meaningful communication with their loved ones well into dementia,” Savleen says. By creating memory books, establishing a clear routine and utilizing visual aids to prompt actions like chewing, speech therapists can help to enhance the daily lives of people with dementia.. Above all, the speech therapy program at Kendal at Lexington is focused on developing individual programs to address individual concerns. If you think you could benefit from improved communication or swallowing skills, talk to your doctor about getting a referral for speech therapy.

Want to learn more about therapy services at Kendal? Call (540) 464-2630 for more information.

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