May is Better Hearing and Speech Month
People seldom think about how dependent they are in their abilities to speak, use language, hear, and swallow safely. Ever since 1927, May has been designated as Better Hearing and Speech Month. It is a time to raise public awareness of the hearing, speech-language, voice and swallowing disorders that affect over 14 million Americans. Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) and Audiologists are dedicated to evaluating and treating these issues.
Children can have communication disorders and feeding/swallowing problems from birth. Early intervention programs have been developed to provide therapy to children 0-3 years of age who have or are at risk for developing a communication or feeding problem. Adults can develop speech-language and/or swallowing disorders due to an injury, illness, disease or more (i.e., head and neck cancer or stroke). Older adults can experience a gradual decline in their ability to hear, speak, understand, and even to swallow safely, especially when faced with a sudden illness.
Speech-language and swallowing disorders are serious and treatable conditions that take many forms.
Many people have heard that SLPs work with stuttering (especially since the movie “The King’s Speech” in 2011). Did you know that stuttering makes speech difficult for more than 2 million Americans? Articulation problems cause people to pronounce sounds incorrectly, making their speech difficult to understand. Language disorders can limit a person’s ability to understand others or to express themselves. Voice disorders may make people sound hoarse or make speech production extremely difficult and even painful. Dysphagia means difficulty swallowing and can affect various stages of the swallow, from the mouth to the stomach. The person with dysphagia might have difficulty with the speed or the strength of the swallow. There may be a structural problem or a muscular problem. A swallowing disorder can cause discomfort, malnutrition/dehydration, weight loss, aspiration (food/liquid/saliva/reflux entering the airway), and pneumonia. Dysphagia can be life threatening.
Each year in the United States approximately 800,000 individuals suffer from a stroke (per the American Heart Association in Circulation, 2015). That is more than one stroke every minute. Per the AHA, stroke is the 5th leading cause of death. One American dies every four minutes from a stroke! About 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes (blockage of blood flow). Therefore, if the person gets to the hospital fast enough (within 3-4 hours), he/she could receive a medication to bust up the blockage. The goal is to break up the blood clot before it has a chance to damage the brain. Depending on the area of the brain that becomes damaged, many problems could occur, such as:
- Dysphagia as noted above.
- Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder caused by damage to the brain. Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia. It is characterized as an impairment of language modalities including speaking, listening, reading and writing. People need to realize that this is not an intellectual deficit. Additionally, the person with aphasia has not lost the words. It is like taking your finely organized filing cabinet and dumping the files all over the floor. The SLP can help you re-organize!
- Apraxia and dysarthria. Apraxia and dysarthria can easily be confused.
- Apraxia is a motor programming problem by which the patient has difficulty sequencing speech movements and sounds; there is no damage to the muscles.
- Dysarthria is a collection of speech disorders most commonly characterized by weakness in the muscles and slurred speech.
Speech-Language Pathologists are professionals with at least a Master’s degree. SLPs are certified and licensed to evaluate and treat speech, language, cognitive, voice, feeding, swallowing and related disorders. They educate and counsel to help people cope and compensate for the problems. In regards to adult speech-language pathology care, people may or may not fully regain their abilities, but the speech-language pathologist can help them maximize their potential and live more independently with an improved quality of life!
Contributed by Karen Sheffler, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S of SwallowStudy.com (May 2014)