Speech Therapy and Aging: Implications for Our Approach to Communication Disorders

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(photo credit)

This post is the beginning of a monthly series by Betty Schreiber, M.M.S. CCC-SLP, on Aging, Communication, Cognition, and Speech Therapy.

Thank you for allowing me to be a new blogger on ASHASphere. I currently supervise Graduate Students at the Ladge Speech and Hearing Clinic at LIU/Post in Brookville, New York. Along with my wonderful business partner, Gail Weissman MA. CCC-SLP, and amazing programmers at Objectgraph LLC, I am also creating Apps designed specifically for our older clients.

As I am at the younger end of what would be considered the “baby boomer” generation, and currently working with adults who have begun to age and suffer communication disorders, I am particularly sensitive to the effect of aging and the social impact of communication disorders amongst this population.

As people get older, it is a fact that health and physical mobility are crucial elements in their ability to function in daily life, interact, and participate normally in society. Even older people who have simply aged with no other issues experience increasing isolation. Their spouses and friends move or pass away, leaving fewer opportunities for social interaction.

The baby boomers are aging and will become a large part of the population in the next 20 years. The Center for Disease Control in collaboration with the Merke Company Foundation has developed information on aging in America with a state by state assessment.

They listed 15 key indicators of older adult health:

  • Physically Unhealthy Days
  • Frequent Mental Distress
  • Oral Health: Complete Tooth Loss
  • Disability
  • No Leisure-Time Physical Activity
  • Eating ≥ 5 Fruits and Vegetables Daily
  • Obesity
  • Current Smoking
  • Flu Vaccine in Past Year
  • Ever Had Pneumonia Vaccine
  • Mammogram Within Past 2 Years
  • Colorectal Cancer Screening
  • Up-to-date on Select Preventive Services
  • Cholesterol Checked in Past 5 Years
  • Hip Fracture Hospitalizations

These factors have an impact on our aging family members ability to attend the therapies they need, maintain cognitive function, communicate and be self-sufficient. The majority of our elderly prefer to stay in a familiar environment even if it means living alone or with some outside help.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services Profile of Older Americans 2011, about 29% (11.3 million) of noninstitutionalized older persons live alone (8.1 million women, 3.2 million men), almost half of older women (47%) age 75+ live alone. The number of Americans aged 45-64, (I’m in that batch) who will reach 65 over the next two decades increased by 31% during this decade. Over one in every eight, or 13.1%, of the population is an older American. This demographic information along with changes in the federal budget and insurance reimbursement should be of concern to us, as professionals. Not only in terms of how we will make a living, but how will we be able to provide needed support and efficient services so that treatment approaches do not have to cost more money. Therapy can be more effective if we address communication and interaction within the framework of the aging living situation as a whole.

In one of the blogs on our website, I told a story of my own family experience. My grandmother, who was about 83 at the time, was placed in the middle of the livingroom while family and friends spoke to each other around her. (I was about 26 and a SLP for 3 years) She was able to hear well enough, and speak well enough, but the attitudes of the younger people were such that unless she made a ruckus, no one felt it was necessary to include her in the conversation! This isolation while surrounded by a bustling family, negatively affected her attention to her surroundings.

Part of my therapy approach with adult clients is to educate and include the families and caregivers in the therapeutic process as much as possible. Our family questionnaire includes questions such as: How many times do you talk to (our client) during the day. We also ask about the client’s speaking interactions at home or in a group of people. I have found that some family members want us to “fix” their husband or wife and want no additional responsibility. But we can talk to them to help them slowly understand that their situation will be better if they are aware of how they can help and use the adaptive tools we are giving them. We are not asking them to do the therapy or practice. We help them with resources in our community and teach them about paired communication and listening. The families, caregivers, even SNF staff should be encouraged to develop a communication routine that allows interaction not mere reaction.

There will be more on this topic in subsequent postings. Any of the Indicators of Older Adult Health frequency may impact our therapy attendance and reimbursement. What does this mean in terms of available services, advocacy, health care coverage, families and caregivers education/training? How can we, as Speech Language Pathologists recognize and support individuals and families in distress and facilitate communication awareness, not only with our clients who are coming for therapy, but for our aging population as a whole?

Betsy C. Schreiber, MMS, CCC-SLP, received a BA  in Psychology and MMS Master of Medical Science in Speech Pathology from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her CCC was earned during the 3 years she worked at Hitchcock Rehabilitation Center in Aiken, South Carolina where she had the opportunity to learn about NDT and Sensory Integration with the original, Jane Ayres, working with LD and CP children and neurologically impaired adults. She is currently a clinical supervisor at Ladge Speech and Hearing Clinic at LIU/Post on Long Island, and a partner at Hope 4 Speech Associates, P.C. She has also served as an ASHA Mentor and hopes to participate in ASHA’s  Political Action Committee in the coming year.

Comments

  1. This is an important conversation. I plan to implement your question of “How many times a day do you speak to (client) throughout the day?” I look forward to your upcoming posts!

    • Thanks for your noticing how important our awareness is and how our ability to teach others can create a better quality of life for our seniors.

Trackbacks

  1. […] We recently came across this great article about our aging population, cognition, and the implication of how we, as caregivers, must stay engaged. When we say ‘caregivers’ we mean not only the professionals, but family and friends as well. The big takeaway here is that we must hold each other accountable in playing an active role in engaging and communicating with out elderly. Without engagement and interaction on a regular basis, decline is all too easy. You can read the full article here: http://blog.asha.org/2013/01/24/aging-population-communication-disorders/ […]