JAMIE MANCE, SPEECH PATHOLOGIST
After a stroke, a person may experience language deficits and swallowing difficulties. Other impairments may include slurred speech, voice disorders and cognitive deficits. The severity of these may vary depending on the location and size of the damage caused by a stroke. A speech therapist (ST) is a health care professional who specializes in assessing and treating communication disorders and swallowing problems.
When a patient is medically stable and cleared by the physician, the rehabilitation process begins. Early intervention with a stroke patient is crucial to obtaining the greatest recovery potential from therapy services. A speech therapist is part of rehabilitation team which includes physical therapists (PT) and occupational therapists (OT). This team is responsible for helping the patient regain as much lost function as possible.
In an acute care setting, a speech and swallowing therapist is consulted by the physician when the patient exhibits difficulty with talking and/or eating meals. A speech and swallowing evaluation is completed. The result of this evaluation determines the strengths and weaknesses of the patient and guides the development of an individualized rehabilitation program. This plan may include compensation strategies and strengthening exercises to assist the patient to improve their communication and swallowing function.
An emphasis is applied to the family’s education so that there is continuity with therapy strategies and exercises. Handouts are given to patients so that they can continue with their therapy daily.
Therapy does not end when the patient is transferred to another facility or discharged home. Rehabilitation services are available in a rehab hospital, nursing home or extended care facility. Home care services provide a therapy setting in your own house. If the patient requires further therapy, then outpatient clinics will provide for their needs.
Terms commonly used in speech therapy:
Aphasia – A difficulty producing and processing language. One example is when the patient states, “I know what it is, but I can’t say it,” when trying to identify an object.
Apraxia – The inability to coordinate (planning, sequencing) the muscles involved in speech production.
Dysarthria – A weakness in the muscles involved in the speech mechanism. This is often described as having slurred speech.
Cognitive deficits – These impairments affect the ability of an individual to think and process information. This may include memory, sequencing and problem solving.
Dysphagia – A weakness in the muscles that are involved with swallowing.
Dysphonia – The inability to produce voiced sounds in speech.