Effective communication is important at any age, but it’s especially vital for seniors. Without the ability to describe their needs, concerns, and pain from illness or injury, their physical and emotional health can be at risk.
While speech difficulties are a common part of the natural aging process—vocal cords become less elastic and larynx muscles weaken—problems can also result from strokes, dementia, and other serious medical conditions. If you have concerns about your loved one’s ability to communicate, here are 6 signs that it’s time for your senior to start speech therapy:
1. Not responding to questions
At first, it might appear that a senior’s lack of response to questions could be the result of age-related hearing loss, but if they already have a hearing aid or the unresponsiveness seems to be intentional, they might be self-conscious about not being able to speak clearly.
2. Relying on nonverbal communication
Another way seniors often hide their diminished speech capacity is by relying on nonverbal communication such as nodding or shaking their head instead of saying “yes” or “no,” pointing at objects instead of requesting them with words, or depending on facial expressions to convey their emotions.
3. Difficulty managing financial, personal, or medical affairs
Even if a senior is not completely silent, speech difficulties can result in problems dealing with finances, medical matters, and personal concerns. Pay attention to how your senior communicates not just with you, but also with doctors, nurses, bank tellers and other professionals.
4. Difficulty eating and swallowing
Another symptom of weak larynx muscles is difficulty or inability to swallow food, or coughing when swallowing. This can have an immediate and dangerous effect on a senior’s nutritional and overall health, but speech therapy involves exercises that can help regain swallowing ability.
5. Voice hoarseness
A hoarse, gravelly, or raspy voice is another symptom of speech difficulties that at first seems like something else, such as a common cold. But the if the hoarseness persists, it could be a sign of weakness in the vocal cords or larynx. Starting speech therapy early can help strengthen them before the problem gets worse.
6. Cognitive changes
Aging muscles and vocal cords aren’t the only age-related cause of speech difficulties. Cognitive impairments from dementia can also drastically affect speech, along with symptoms related to stroke. If your loved one seems increasingly forgetful or can’t seem to find the right words, they may benefit from a neuropsychological evaluation to diagnose the problem, followed by speech therapy to support recovery from cognitive impairments.
Help your loved one reclaim their voice
Whether the issue is communicating effectively or swallowing safely, speech therapists are trained to design individualized treatment programs to help seniors regain their voice and independence. If you’re looking for speech therapy in San Diego, come see us at Bella Vista Health Care. We have skilled, compassionate professionals ready to help your loved ones with speech therapy, physical therapy, physical rehabilitation, occupational therapy, and a number of other rehabilitative services. Give us a call to schedule a tour today.