In general, speech-language pathologists work to prevent, assess, diagnose and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults.
They work with patients on speech, language, hearing, swallowing, cognition, voice and resonance, augmentative and alternative communication, social pragmatics and fluency. In addition, speech-language pathologists engage in advocacy and outreach, supervision, education, administration, prevention and wellness, research, collaboration and counseling.
Some of the more common things a speech-language pathologist helps patients with are swallowing, cognition and language and voice.
In terms of swallowing, a speech-language pathologist will complete clinical swallow assessments, complete swallow therapy and provide educations for patients and their caregivers on diet and nutrition recommendations, safe swallow precautions and oral care. Patients who have had a stroke, head and neck cancer or who are diagnosed with a neurological disease may benefit from swallow therapy.
Common medical issues that require cognition and language therapy include brain injuries, stroke and dementia, while voice treatment is often helpful for patients with vocal cord paralysis, spasmodic dysphonia and Parkinson’s disease, among others.
So how do you know if you would benefit from seeing a speech-language pathologist? Some things to look out for include:
- Difficulty chewing or pocketing food
- Coughing while eating or drinking
- Decreased eating or drinking
- Significant unwanted weight loss
- Trouble taking pills
- Wet or gurgly voice quality with meals
- Increased confusion
- Decreased speech output
- Reduced vocal quality or vocal loudness
- Slurred speech
- Multiple falls due to unsafe behaviors
- Difficulty recalling safety strategies
- Difficulty recalling names of people or things
- Difficulty understanding directions
- Decreased awareness of difficulties
- Difficulty paying attention while speaking
- Garbled speech that doesn’t make sense
- Difficulty with remembering the steps of activities of daily living
An appointment requires a physician referral, so the first step is to discuss any issues that you are having with your health care provider.
Ranae Gradowski, C.C.C.-S.L.P., is a speech-language pathologist at MyMichigan Health.