What is speech therapy?

Neurology, Family Health
May 16, 2019

St. Joseph’s/Candler offers speech therapy for stroke, Parkinson’s, cancer, kids and more

Many neurological disorders, such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease, can result in debilitating side effects including difficulty communicating and swallowing. Certain cancers, especially of the head and neck, also can affect one’s ability to swallow or communicate.

Jennifer Reeves Cobb, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist at St. Joseph’s HospitalAt St. Joseph’s/Candler, we have a team of Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) trained and certified to help patients with speech and language problems.

Speech therapy is important in the recovery process because it improves vital skills important to getting better quicker, such as being able to communicate with healthcare providers and the ability to swallow to maintain a healthy diet.

Speech therapy is typically offered in two settings: medical and educational, explains Jennifer Reeves Cobb, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital. In the hospital setting, our Speech-Language Pathologists most often work with adults who suffer from stroke, traumatic brain injuries, movement disorders and cancers that affect speech and swallowing, Cobb says.

Related Article: Rehabilitation after a stroke can help with symptoms, improve quality of life

Our therapists also are trained to work with the youngest and tiniest of patients, says Cobb. At Candler Hospital, we offer speech therapy for children in an outpatient setting, and one of our certified SLPs specializes in assessing and treating premature babies in our Special Care Nursery who have difficulty feeding or swallowing.

The impairment treated by a SLP determines what activities are done during therapy and the length of therapy, Cobb says. Some patients may need just a few weeks of therapy while others, especially those suffering a massive stroke, may need up to six months or more of therapy.

Many of the exercises performed during therapy are repetitive tasks designed to improve communication, speech and/or swallowing. For example, the therapist and patient may work on improving swallow function by completing targeted exercises with increasing intensity. A patient with Aphasia (difficulty with speaking or understanding language or both) might work with a SLP to target word finding skills, generating complete sentences or participating in structured conversations, Cobb says.

Other activities may focus on alternative forms of communication through gestures, communication boards or high tech devices, especially if that’s the best route for the patient to communicate at that moment in the recovery journey, Cobb says.

The goal of speech therapy is to retrain the brain to function as it did, or as best as possible, before an illness or injury, Cobb says. SLPs teach activities to improve neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections especially in response to learning following an injury.

“The younger you are, the more neuroplasticity your brain has and the better it can reroute those pathways in the brain to be able to communicate again or speak again or swallow again,” Cobb says. “Sometimes in the very elderly, it’s not as easy for the brain to adapt and rewire those connections, although it is possible at any age. We do a lot of repetition to rebuild neuro pathways.”

There are four levels in which speech therapy is offered through St. Joseph’s/Candler:

  • Acute Care: These patients have been admitted to the hospital following a serious illness, traumatic injury or neurological insult that has affected their communication, cognition or swallowing ability. Our therapists assess the patient’s current level of function and how best to assist that patient during their inpatient stay with improving areas of deficit.
  • Inpatient rehab: These patients are on a more structured schedule, seeing a speech therapist certain times of the day for five or six days a week for more intensive therapy. The therapist will work with the patient on certain exercises and activities to improve areas of need.

    Related Article: Inpatient rehab helps mother of two walk sooner, get home quicker
  • Outpatient rehab: SLPs also can see patients in an outpatient setting, often meeting twice a week for 30 minutes to an hour. Therapists will continue exercises and activities to improve the patient’s ability to communicate and/or swallow. The Lee-Silverman Voice Treatment program, designed for people with Parkinson’s disease, is one of the services offered through the outpatient therapy program.

    Related Article: Physical therapy program can help Parkinson’s patients with walking, daily functions
  • Home Health: For our patients who are homebound, speech therapy also is offered through St. Joseph’s/Candler Home Health Care. Therapist can do the same activities to improve communication or swallowing in the comfort of the patient’s home.

    Related Article: How do you know if you or a loved one qualifies for home health care? 

If you or a loved one would benefit from any level of speech therapy care, talk to your physician.

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