May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, and Burke is spotlighting the importance of early detection and treatment for communication disorders in older adults. Today, an estimated 42 million Americans have some type of communication disorder.
Speech/language or swallowing disorders may result from medical conditions, such as oral cancer, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or traumatic brain injury. Adults may also experience voice disorders or speech/language disorders that have persisted since childhood, such as stuttering.
A speech-language pathologist works with the full range of human communication and its disorders. They evaluate, diagnose, and treat speech, language, cognitive-communication, voice and swallowing disorders in individuals of all ages.
- cough or choke while eating?
- have trouble getting your words out or saying simple thoughts like "Thank you" or “I love you?”
- often forget words, or find they are on the tip of your tongue and cannot quite find them?
- fail to recognize places or people’s faces, which you have seen before and should be familiar with?
- feel as though you run out of air when you talk?
- have difficulty planning a schedule or keeping appointments?
- often ask for repetitions because you don’t understand or get lost during a conversation?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, it is essential you receive a comprehensive evaluation by a speech-language pathologist. In many cases, improvement is evident within a few months of treatment.
Hearing loss is among the most common condition affecting older Americans. In fact, according to an AARP-ASHA poll that was taken in 2011, a significant percentage of baby boomers have untreated hearing loss. Hearing and balance issues are also a risk factor for falls, a serious concern for the older population, which may result in significant injury or death.
- frequently ask people to repeat themselves?
- often turn your ear toward a sound to hear it better?
- understand people better when you wear your glasses or look directly at their faces?
- lose your place in group conversations?
- keep the volume on your radio or TV at a level that others say is too loud?
- have pain or ringing in your ears?
If you can think of a time that the above has happened to you or a family member, contact an audiologist for a through evaluation. Although many people may think of hearing aids as the singular answer to hearing issues, other interventions may be appropriate.
How to help
Communication disorders are complex conditions with medical, psychological, physical, social, educational, and employment implications. If left untreated, a person may experience reduced quality of life, depression, and even anxiety; all of which support the critical importance of early diagnosis and treatment.
Family members and friends can assist a loved one with a communication disorder in numerous ways, including providing assistance with finding a provider and accompanying him or her to appointments. There are also everyday things a family member or friend can do to help make the communication process easier for an older person who may have hearing or speaking challenges.
- During conversation, minimize or eliminate background noise (e.g., turn off the radio or TV, close the door, move to a quieter place).
- Make sure you have the person’s attention before communicating.
- Stick to a topic. Avoid quick shifts from topic to topic.
- Allow extra time for responding. Don’t hurry the person. Respect the silence while they work on their words.
- Be an active listener. Look for cues in the person’s tone of voice, facial expression and behavior to help you understand the message. Be sure to “read” the underlying feeling and meaning and not just the words that are uttered.
Burke is offering free community education presentations aimed at patients, family members and the community. All the presentations take place from 5:30pm – 6:30pm in the Patient Dining Room in Burke's main hospital building (Building #7) on the White Plains campus. The dates and topics are as follows:
Monday, May 9: Communication and Traumatic Brain Injury. This presentation will review common symptoms of TBI, new technologies available to assist individuals with TBI, and strategies individuals and family members can use. Please RSVP to (914) 597-2398 by May 6 to reserve a seat.
Monday, May 16: Hearing Loss: Tips and Strategies. This presentation will review the benefits of routine hearing screening, new technologies available to assist individuals who are hearing impaired, and strategies individuals and family members can use to facilitate communication. Please RSVP to (914) 597-2398 by May 6 to reserve a seat.
Monday, May 23: Cognitive Communication Strategies and Dementia. This presentation will review communicative changes that may be expected following a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, technologies that may improve daily life for individuals with dementia, and strategies family and caregivers can use to facilitate communication with loved ones. Please RSVP to (914) 597-2398 by May 13 to reserve a seat.
To seek an assessment from a speech-language pathologist contact the Outpatient Speech Therapy Department, at (914) 597-2288.
—Keisha Eldridge, M.S., CCC-SLP, Supervisor, Outpatient Speech Therapy Department