Speech Therapy for the Elderly

The ability to speak and communicate clearly is vital for individuals of all ages, but it's particularly important concerning the elderly population. If seniors cannot adequately describe what it is they need, where their pain is located or what might be going wrong in general, situations can quickly escalate into emergencies. This is where speech therapy can play an essential role in promoting greater health for the elderly population, especially those who have suffered from a stroke, a brain injury, or cancer of the mouth head and throat. Those who offer speech therapy are generally called speech language pathologists (SLP's), and they offer therapies that focus on an individual's capacity for language, speech, comprehension and swallowing. Their treatment plans are designed to help improve senior's cognition, communication and address issues like nutrition and hydration that some medical providers don't take into account concerning speech and swallowing issues. Furthermore, speech pathologists help promote a healthy lifestyle for seniors through education about dementia related conditions and stroke prevention.

When to Consider Speech Therapy for Seniors

Because speech therapy has so many benefits for the elderly, some individuals consider therapy for even mild to moderate concerns such as stuttering or fear of speaking around others. However, it is often after a medical incident such as the onset of dementia, a stroke, a head injury or an oral or head related cancer diagnosis that seniors seek out speech therapy treatment. It's important to note that speech therapy can also become necessary due to the aging process. As the vocal cords lose elasticity and the larynx muscles weaken, seniors may find speaking in their normal manner challenging or impossible. Some signs to look for when considering speech therapy include:
  • Is your elderly loved one having problems responding to others or requesting needed items?
  • Are they experiencing difficulty managing personal matters due to lack of clear speaking and communications?
  • Does the senior seem to have trouble swallowing or feel like food is ‘stuck' in the chest or throat?
  • Is there any doubt that the senior could adequately communicate in a time of emergency?
  • Has your loved one become more reluctant to speak recently?
  • Are they struggling with speaking audibly or having trouble hearing others?
  • Does your loved one transpose words frequently?
Speech language pathologists are highly trained and skilled in helping seniors retrain and regain their ability to communicate with speech therapy. They also assist with dysphasia conditions that can make swallowing difficult or impossible. After the decision is made to seek treatment, an SLP will perform a comprehensive evaluation and then make recommendations for specific therapies depending on whether the issues are aphasia related, dysphasia based or both. Treatment methods vary depending on whether the issues are caused by a stroke, head injury or a dementia related condition.

Speech Therapy for Seniors After a Stroke

After a stroke, many senior patients suffer from a condition called aphasia, which impairs one's ability to comprehend and properly use language. Out of the 700,000 individuals who suffer a stroke annually, one in four survivors experience aphasia, and the sooner speech therapy is sought out, the higher the chances are of recovery. The degree of how serious language is damaged typically depends on the intensity of the stroke, as even an ischemic stroke can mildly impair movement within the face and furthermore cause difficulty in swallowing. Fortunately, speech language pathologists are trained to help seniors increase functional communications and cognitive skills in addition to teaching safe swallowing skills to seniors. Some therapies utilized after a stroke may include:
  • Singing – Making melodic intonations for words they can't speak
  • Constraint-Induced Therapy – Creating scenarios only with spoken words and no visual cues
  • Visual Speech Perception – Associating certain words with pictures for cognitive retraining
  • Support Groups with Peers – Sharing strategies and successes with others
  • Diet/Feeding Modifications – Dysphasia relief through special diets, hydration and feeding techniques
  • Muscle Retraining or Compensation Strategies – Exercises to prevent muscle deterioration while gaining strength

Speech Therapy for Dementia Related Conditions

Cognitive communication is generally effected by dementia related conditions and memory disorders, making it challenging for seniors to process and remember information. Furthermore, reasoning and problem solving skills may be impaired, so a speech pathologist can be of help in the early stages of dementia in numerous ways. By keeping language skills sharp, the signs of memory conditions can often be minimized, allowing the senior to have greater control over their speech and reasoning skills. Sometimes elderly individuals may forget to stay nourished and hydrated, and speech therapists can work with them and their families to help resolve such issues which can prevent or resolve swallowing problems. Therapists employ many of the same techniques as those used post-stroke.

Speech Therapy for Head Injuries and Head, Neck & Throat Cancer Patients

The results of head injuries due to trauma or chemotherapy or surgery for head, neck or throat cancer can leave seniors lacking language and communication skills. The approach taken will depend on the circumstances and the severity of the condition. In addition to melodic sounds, constraint-induced therapy, modification and cognition therapy, some treatments may involve electric stimulation of the throat muscles. There are also exercises that can help seniors maintain muscle function as they recover their language capacities. Beyond working with a speech pathologist, your loved one may also be referred to work with other specialists that can assist with speech issues such as audiologist, physical therapists and occupational therapists.

Where Can I Find Speech Therapy Near Me?

Speech Language Therapists work in a variety of settings where they provide seniors with speech therapy including: Take a moment to search our senior living directory to find an array of senior services near you today.