What is a speech-language pathologist?
Aphasia: Aphasia is a complex problem which may result, in varying degrees, in a reduced ability to understand what others are saying, to express oneself, or to be understood. Some individuals with this disorder may have no speech, while others may have only mild difficulties recalling names or words. Others may have problems putting words in their proper order in a sentence. The ability to understand oral directions, to read, to write, and to deal with numbers may also be disturbed. Strokes are the major cause of aphasia in the older population. It has been estimated that there are over one million adults with aphasia in the United States today. Many can be helped to communicate more effectively.
Voice Problems: Laryngectomy, the surgical removal of the larynx (voice box) due to cancer, affects approximately 8,000 individuals each year, most of whom are older. They can usually learn to speak again by learning esophageal speech, by using an electronic device, or by surgical implant of a voice prosthesis. Other forms of disease may result in complete or partial loss of the voice. Most of these problems can be treated.
Hearing Problems: It is estimated that of the almost 32 million Americans over the age of 65, more than 10 million have a hearing loss. The hearing loss observed as a part of the aging process is called presbycusis. Many of those with presbycusis describe the problem as being able to hear what other are saying, but being unable to understand what is being said. This condition can lead to withdrawal from personal interactions of all types. Family or friends may confuse the disorder with forgetfulness or senility. A hearing aid can often improve communication for older people with hearing loss.
Other Communication Problems: Brain diseases that result in progressive loss of mental faculties may affect memory; orientation to time, place and people; and organization of thought processes, all of which may result in reduced ability to communicate.
Why are communication disorders serious problems for older people?
Our communication system, which involves speaking, hearing and understanding the speech of others, reading, and writing, is a unique human achievement. It plays a vital role in all aspects of everyday lifein our jobs, our families, and our recreation. When communication processes are damaged by disorders of speech, language or hearing, the effects are always serious.
Disorders of speech, language, and hearing are frequently found among older adults. These individuals often find themselves at a distinct disadvantage on social, economic, and personal levels. With the number of older adults growing rapidly, and the increased numbers of survivors of illnesses and accidents which can result in speech, language, or hearing disorders, more and more older adults with communication problems will be encountered. They require the understanding of family and friends as well as services from professionals in communication disorders.
Disorders of communication which affect older people may result from hearing loss, stroke, cancer or other disease of the larynx, parkinsonism, or other neurological disorders. The communication disorders vary widely and include difficulty with speaking and with understanding verbal messages. The effects of these disorders may be frustrating and bewildering and may lead to withdrawal and isolation. Participation on any social or economic level may become difficult or impossible either because of the disorder itself or the emotional consequences.
Who can help older people with communication disorders?
The Speech-Language Pathologist
The Speech-Language Pathologist is the trained professional who evaluates and treats disorders of speech and language. The Speech-Language Pathologist is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and has been trained to aid in the recovery or maintenance of speech or language function. Following careful assessment, the Speech-Language Pathologist designs and implements a program to best treat the problem.
The Audiologist is the professional trained to identify and evaluate impaired hearing, to determine the need for hearing rehabilitation, and to establish programs to help people make the best use of their hearing. The Audiologist also determines whether or not hearing aids will be beneficial and, if so, may select and fit appropriate ones. The Audiologist is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Where are speech, language, and audiology services located?
Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology services are provided in many public and private clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, private practices, health departments, colleges and universities, and state and federal agencies. There are thousands of clinical facilities and full-time private practitioners providing speech, language and hearing services to people throughout the United States. Service facilities exist in many cities in every state. Home services are also available in Vermont and most states.
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