By Nicole Urbanczyk
As we age, we have a lower threshold for illness or injury. Weakness caused by surgeries or other medical conditions may impact one’s ability to communicate or swallow. If you are having trouble talking or swallowing, it is time to ask your doctor for a speech therapy referral. Early evaluation and treatment, can help seniors regain and optimize their function to resume their daily routine safely.
Know the signs
If you experience any of these speech or swallowing issues, see your doctor:
• Chewing food takes longer, especially meats
• Throat clearing, coughing or choking while eating
• Food sticking or moving sluggishly through the esophagus
• Difficulty swallowing water or thin liquids
• Unclear verbal expression and pronunciation of words
• Voice problems
• Disorientation; poor memory or judgment
• Difficulty completing familiar tasks
• Recurrent respiratory infections and pneumonia
• Unexplained weight loss and dehydration
Keep track of the cause, frequency and time of day surrounding each episode. Note whether you feel tired, stressed or anxious at these times. In addition to obtaining the speech evaluation referral you need, this information will help your doctor determine if a neurology, gastrointestinal or ear/nose/throat consult is also needed for an accurate diagnosis.
Don’t wait to get help
Speech therapy should also be a top priority when a senior receives a diagnosis of Parkinson’s or another neurodegenerative disease. Early evaluation and therapy will help maintain as many communication skills as possible, for as long as possible.
Many eldercare communities provide speech therapy as part of a continuum of care. St. Ann’s Community has five full-time licensed speech language pathologists to regularly assess skilled nursing residents at St. Ann’s Home and St. Ann’s Care Center and rehab patients that come to our Transitional Care Center.
For outpatient care, seniors can find licensed speech therapists at many healthcare clinics and doctors’ offices, or through home healthcare agencies.
Taking some basic precautions can prevent a speech and swallowing problem from interfering with spending time with others and doing things you love:
• Practice good posture when eating or drinking
• Choose foods that are easier for you to eat
• Avoid dry, coarse or hard foods
• Take small bites; chew slowly and thoroughly
• Be sure you’re well rested
• Choose a quieter environment for gatherings
Remember—recovering from speech and swallowing problems takes time and patience. Be kind to your self. Speech therapists are ready to help.
Nicole Urbanczyk, MS, CCC-SLT, BCS-S is a speech pathology coordinator at St. Ann’s Community, a senior community offering a full continuum of care in Rochester. Email her at nurbanczyk@MyStAnns.com, call 585-697-6503 or visit www.stannscommunity.com.