When you think of speech therapy, you probably think of school-based specialists helping children pronounce R’s or get rid of a lisp. But the ability to communicate effectively is important at any age, including for seniors whose speech may be affected by age or illness. Aside from the social impact of a speech impediment, emergency situations can occur if a senior citizen is unable to communicate pain, discomfort, or other concerns. Fortunately, speech therapy specialized for elderly patients is available, and it provides benefits beyond improved communication. Here’s how speech therapy can help:
Strengthens vocal cords
Like many other parts of our bodies, vocal cords become less elastic with age, which weakens the larynx muscles and makes communication more difficult. Speech therapy might not be able to “fix” the elasticity of vocal cords, but specialized vocal exercises can strengthen them and improve the quality of communication.
Improves ability to swallow
Another consequence of age-weakened muscles is the diminished ability to swallow, which increases the likelihood of choking on food. The strengthening effect of speech therapy on vocal cords and larynx and jaw muscles can improve the swallowing reflex and increase comfort and safety during meals.
Treats stroke-related disorders
Speech therapy is typically recommended for patients who have suffered a stroke, targeting two different disorders: aphasia and apraxia.
Aphasia is the difficulty in finding the right words to express thoughts, such as saying “table” when the patient means “chair.” About a quarter of all stroke survivors experience aphasia, and long-term speech therapy helps patients focus in order to find the correct word.
Apraxia is the inability of a patient to move their lips properly in order to form words. Speech therapy for apraxia involves repetition of specific sounds before turning those sounds into words.
For either disorder, speech therapy should begin as soon as possible after the stroke—immediate treatment increases the chances of full recovery.
Treats memory loss and dementia
Seniors suffering from memory loss and dementia can also find benefits in speech therapy, even if their speaking abilities are normal. Speech therapy preserves the brain functions associated with communication, and helps address the cognitive aspects of communication including attention and problem solving. Therapists can also assist loved ones, teaching them how to improve communication with seniors struggling with memory loss.
Improves quality of life
Communication is an integral part of life for practical and social reasons, which is why many seniors with untreated speech issues are prone to isolation and medical problems. Improving a senior’s ability to speak will increase their safety, health, and the quality of life that comes with participating in social activities.
Bella Vista Health Center can help
If you notice that an elderly loved one is having trouble communicating, processing, and organizing information, it might be time to consider speech therapy. At Bella Vista Health Center, we offer a clinical speech therapy program consisting of treatment, support, and care for those who have difficulties with communication, swallowing, and cognition. For more information, give us a call or drop by our 5-star facility in Lemon Grove today.