Speech Therapy: More Than Words Can Say

Have you ever wondered what type of healthcare professional treats speech related problems? One such healthcare professional is a speech-language pathologist, more commonly known as a speech therapist.

You may be wondering what exactly a speech therapist does or what is their “scope of practice?” Great question! If you are thinking something to do with one’s voice, speech, or communication, you are only partially on track. The truth is that not only does a speech therapist conduct treatment concerning communication dysfunctions, but they also address swallowing and cognitive problems.

Swallowing: It has been estimated that 70% to 90% of elderly patients have some degree of swallowing dysfunction. This is also known as dysphagia. Exercise programs for the mouth, and throat and other methods of treatment, are utilized by speech therapists to effectively assist individuals with a swallowing problem. By the way, when your mom used to say, “Sit up straight at the dinner table!” or “Don’t talk with your mouth full!” she was actually employing speech therapist wisdom, as these are common adjustments often needed in regards to eating in order to avoid having a choking incident.

Thought Process: The role of the speech therapist in treatment of individuals with cognitive-communication disorders include training discrete cognitive processes, teaching specific functional skills, and developing compensatory strategies and support systems (ASHA, 2005). Cognition is just another word for thought process. It goes without saying that cognition covers a wide range of brain functions. Just think, no pun intended, your memory, orientation of your surroundings, paying attention and concentrating, problem solving, and reasoning and safety judgment all stem from our brain! How often do we take this for granted? I for one am thankful for healthcare professionals who specialize in areas such as this!

Communication: Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is a fundamental human need.  Meeting this need by facilitating and enhancing communication in any form can be vital to a patient’s well-being (NSA, 2005). All day long we communicate in some form or another. This includes, expression (sending information) and reception (receiving information). Your speech and language quality; are you choosing the right words to express yourself or does the word pattern even make sense? Writing content and physical gesturing and body language are also important in transferring information from one person to another. Furthermore, the ability to listen and understand spoken information, comprehend information read, as well as the non-verbal cues associated with communication reception are also areas of specialty for a speech therapist.

As you can see, a speech therapist is the expert of so much more than, well, “speaking.” A speech therapist is an integral part of taking care of patients with swallowing, cognition, and communication disorders. For further information take some time and visit www.asha.org to learn more about speech therapy.