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Defining adult speech therapy

Last Modified: October 26, 2022

Family Medicine, Diseases & Disorders

speech therapy

We often take our ability to communicate for granted, but when a problem arises, it can be debilitating. Speech therapy can help bridge that gap, lending a voice to those who need it most. Molly McFarren, MA, CCC-SLP, outpatient speech-language pathologist, Parkview Whitley Hospital, helps explain the intricacies of adult speech therapy and the most common conditions warranting this course of treatment.

What is adult speech therapy?

In general, speech therapists can treat both children and adults. However, adult speech therapy focuses more on treating and rehabilitating a person’s speech or swallowing mechanism. This is especially important for patients who’ve suffered a stroke, have Parkinson’s disease, vocal cord cancer, swallowing difficulties or impairment due to other various conditions or injuries.

What does an adult speech therapist do?

Speech-language pathologists work to prevent, assess, diagnose and treat speech-language, social communication, cognitive-communication, voice disorders and swallowing disorders in children and adults. However, while most people associate speech therapy with children and school-based therapy focused on articulation, speech therapists actually do more than you might think. We must undergo extensive schooling, including four years of undergrad in speech sciences and two years of graduate school in speech pathology. Then we must complete two types of clinicals, one in a school and one in a medical setting, followed by a year of clinical fellowship where we have direct mentorship. After that, we must complete extensive continuing education courses every year, which many speech therapists use to specialize in different areas that require further training.

What are the most common causes of adult speech impairment?

Numerous factors could affect an adult’s speech. Different impairments can occur because of various diseases, disorders or injuries. For example, you may develop a speech impairment due to the following:

  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Neurological and motor disorders
  • Injury or illness affecting the vocal cords
  • Voice disorders
Who is an ideal candidate for adult speech therapy?

Anyone who has had a decline or change in their speech, voice, cognition, or swallowing can benefit from speech therapy. If you’re dealing with a change due to a disease, disorder or injury, you will likely receive an order for speech therapy from your physician. But if you’re dealing with voice hoarseness, chronic laryngitis, swallowing changes or sudden weight loss, you should speak with your primary care provider about getting evaluated and if therapy with a speech-language pathologist is necessary.

What typically happens during an adult speech therapy session?

A typical speech therapy session usually begins by obtaining a detailed health history from the patient. Then, depending on the situation, we will perform measurable or standardized testing, including a bedside swallow test where people eat and drink in the office or a Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS). Afterward, we review the results with the patient and develop a treatment plan that could require up to 12 weeks of therapy.

What’s one of the most significant barriers to adult patients seeking treatment?

The biggest obstacle many adults face is a lack of knowledge of speech therapy, why someone would need it, and what conditions it can treat. During my time as a speech-language pathologist, I’ve seen many people live with their symptoms because they didn’t realize there was a problem and assumed it was normal. Education on behalf of healthcare providers is critical. It can help patients understand their symptoms, ask appropriate questions and get moving in the right direction to find treatment and get a care plan in place.

What do you want people to know about adult speech therapy?

Being able to navigate the world you live in physically is very important, but so is having the ability to communicate and express your wants and needs. Being able to eat, drink and socialize with your friends and loved ones is fundamental and something we often take for granted. But that’s where speech therapy can help. We can safely treat your symptoms through various techniques while allowing you to remain cognitively intact for as long as possible, ensuring the quality of life that we all deserve.

How can patients find and utilize these services?

If you or a loved one need rehabilitation or speech therapy services and want to know if Parkview’s speech therapy program is right for you, please contact your primary care provider to determine if you qualify for a referral.

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