The ability to speak, hear, and understand language and conversation are central to almost every aspect of daily life. Yet, these skills are often taken for granted until they are lost. For older Americans, communication disorders are among the most common challenges they may face. Unfortunately, these disorders may go untreated for years—or may never be treated.
“When someone’s communication ability, whether comprehensive or expressive, is affected it puts them in a vulnerable position,” said Laurel Jones, OCH Rehab Services Licensed Speech-Language Pathologist. “They can’t always make their own decisions. So, depending on the severity, someone has to assist them with daily living. Loved ones, such as a spouse or adult child, are often significantly affected by a family member’s communication difficulties. These loved ones are also the people who are in the best position to influence the decision to seek treatment,” explained Jones.
In the areas of voice, speech, and language, many disorders may affect older Americans. Some may be the result of another health condition, and some may occur on their own. Aphasia (a loss of the ability to use or understand language) is most common in people in their middle to late years. Difficulty with speech and swallowing (both issues treated by speech-language pathologists) may result from medical conditions such as stroke or oral cancer. Treatment for these disorders is critical to daily functioning and improved quality of life.
Jones said too often, lack of treatment or treatment delays are due to myths about certain disorders, such as “they are just part of the normal aging process.”
“What I enjoy most about my position as a speech-language pathologist is when a patient learns how to communicate again because that is so critical to living and enjoying life. It’s not just about surviving but thriving,” stated Jones.
Jones and Licensed Speech Language Pathologist Lori Windle at OCH Rehab Services offer treatment for child speech and language delays or disorders; stuttering or “fluency” disorders; voice disorders; dysphagia (swallowing disorders); and cognitive impairment, aphasia, and dysarthria (disorders resulting from a stroke). Jones and Windle are both certified by the American Speech Language-Hearing Association. In addition, the certification qualifies them to evaluate, diagnose and treat a broad range of delays and disorders in their patients. They work with each patient individually to custom design a program that will help the patient become as functional and independent as possible.
“Serving as a speech language pathologist is the perfect blend of counseling, teaching, and advocating,” said Windle. “Our goal is to not only treat our patients’ disorders, but also to develop a long term relationship with them and their families and create a light in the darkness.
Jones and Windle host regular Stroke Support Group meetings at OCH Regional Medical Center. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 15 from 10 – 11 a.m. in the OCH Community Room and is free and open to the public.
For more information about OCH Rehab Services speech therapy services, which are available for children and adults of all ages, visit och.org/speech-therapy, or call Jones or Windle at (662) 615-3030. For an appointment, contact your personal physician. All therapy provided through the OCH Rehab Services Department requires physician referral.