When we think about speech therapy, most of us likely think of younger children and school-based speech specialists helping children to pronounce certain words or correct a lisp. But effective communication abilities are essential at any age, including for seniors, whose speech is often affected by advancing age or various medical conditions.
Apart from the social implications of communication challenges, serious and potentially emergent situations can occur when a senior isn’t able to properly communicate that they are experiencing pain, discomfort, or other health concerns. The good news is that speech therapy that is specifically designed to help seniors communicate is easily available and highly effective. Speech therapy for seniors provides many benefits aside from improved communication abilities.
If you or a loved one is struggling to communicate properly, seek help as soon as possible. Getting started with Great Speech is as simple as scheduling your free introductory call today!
What Can Cause Speech Problems in the Elderly?
Our bodies undergo many changes as we age, some of which may be surprising to us. While it is expected that we will physically slow down as we get older and that our eyesight or hearing may change or deteriorate, other changes take place that many people may not be aware of. One of these that isn’t widely known or talked about is changes in speech and language abilities.
Just as is true in other health-related areas, there are typical differences and changes in speech and language skills that transpire as we get older. These changes can be the result of a loss of elasticity and flexibility in the vocal cords, weakened muscles that are responsible for manipulating the vocal cords and articulators, as well as other causes. If you are experiencing subtle changes in your speech, or perhaps noticing them in a friend or family member, it’s highly important to understand the underlying causes of these changes and what can be done to support and improve communication abilities as we get older.
How Does Aging Affect Speech?
The normal process of aging can result in the occurrence of many changes that affect speech production. It is normal for our muscles to become weaker as we age, including the muscles in the throat, mouth, and jaw. In addition, changes related to tissue and glands are also common. When these factors are combined, speech processes can be changed significantly. This explains the stereotype of an older person’s voice often being portrayed as shaky, quiet, and hoarse, with lots of variation in pitch.
For the most part, these changes are due to an affected larynx, or voice box. The larynx is responsible for voice production, and lack of support, decreased flexibility, and the hardening of cartilage change the process in which sounds are produced.
Speech changes amongst seniors can also be the result of specific medical conditions that affect mobility, cognition, and overall brain function. Some examples of these conditions include:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Traumatic Brain Injury
Whatever the underlying cause for communication difficulties might be, seeking the help and support of a speech therapist is an important step. Getting started with speech therapy through Great Speech is as simple as scheduling your free introductory call today.
What are the Benefits of Speech Therapy for Seniors?
There are many benefits to speech therapy for people of all ages. When it comes to speech therapy that is designed specifically for seniors, the therapy appointments will likely focus on some (or all) of the following:
Strengthening Vocal Cords
Just as in many other parts of the body, the vocal cords become less flexible and elastic as we age, which in turn weakens the muscles in the larynx and makes effective communication more difficult. While speech therapy may not be able to repair the elasticity of vocal cords, specially designed vocal exercises can help to strengthen the vocal cords and improve the individual’s overall quality of communication.
Treating Stroke-Related Disorders
Speech therapy is commonly recommended for individuals who have suffered from a stroke and will target two distinct disorders: aphasia and apraxia, which can both result from brain damage due to a stroke.
Aphasia refers to difficulty finding the appropriate words to effectively express one’s thoughts and feelings. Sometimes this means using the wrong word, for example saying “chair” when they actually are talking about a table. Approximately 25% of stroke survivors develop aphasia, and long-term supportive speech therapy can help these individuals regain focus and order as they work to communicate.
Apraxia refers to the inability of an individual to properly move and manipulate their lips in order to effectively form words and speech sounds. Speech therapy for apraxia often involves the repetition of specific sounds before combining those sounds to create words.
For both of these disorders, ideally, speech therapy after a stroke begins as soon as possible as an immediate treatment plan increases the chances of a complete recovery.
Treatment for Memory Loss and Dementia
Seniors who suffer from conditions such as memory loss and dementia can also benefit significantly from specialized speech therapy. This is true even for seniors whose speaking abilities are normal and unaffected at the time. Speech therapy works to preserve the brain functions that are associated with communication and helps to address the various cognitive aspects of communication, which include attention and problem-solving skills. Speech therapists can also be helpful in assisting loved ones and caregivers by teaching them how to improve and support communication with their loved one who is struggling with memory loss.
Improves Quality of Life
Communication is an essential part of a fulfilling life and is important for both practical and social reasons. This is why so many seniors with unaddressed speech problems are prone to becoming isolated and developing medical problems. By improving a senior’s communication abilities, we also increase and protect their safety, health, and their overall quality of life that comes with interacting with others and participating in social activities. Don’t wait to get support for yourself or a loved one. Get started with speech therapy by scheduling your free introductory call today!