Articles :: Professional Services and Resources

The Role of the Speech Therapist in the Geriatric Population

Most often people think of speech therapy as only needed for children who stutter or for improved articulation.  Speech therapy can be an easily overlooked tool in the geriatric rehabilitation trifecta that is physical, occupational, and speech therapy. However, with a little education (read on), one can become therapy savvy and self-advocate or help a family member self-advocate for all the care they may need. Speech therapy prevents, diagnoses, and treats disorders of swallowing, voice, communication, language, and cognition including memory, attention, and problem solving. Some diseases and disorders more common in the geriatric population that can be treated or improved with speech therapy include Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, dysphagia (disorder of swallowing), aphasia, or dysarthria, to name a few. Speech therapists also work closely with occupational and physical therapists. Speech therapy can even be beneficial for ailments not typically thought of as being related to cognition. In 2010, there were 258,000 hospital admissions for hip fractures among people aged 65 and older1. Repair of a hip fracture often requires a rehabilitation stay with physical and occupational therapy. In many of these cases, speech therapy is overlooked. However, studies have demonstrated that intensive geriatric rehabilitation in post-hip fracture patients, even those with dementia; have a better chance of returning home to independent living. As people age, so do their chances of acquiring a communication or swallowing related disorder. A speech therapist that works with the geriatric population will have the training to detect the difference between disorder and normal aging of the swallowing, voice and cognitive functions. A speech therapist should hold national certification from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Speech therapy is covered by Medicare benefits and many private insurance companies as well.  For more information about speech therapy please visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website at www.asha.org. Editor’s note:  This article was submitted by Samantha Conley, M.S. – CCC – SLP.  She is a Vitalstim certified Speech Therapist and Dementia Care Specialist with Covenant Village of CO.  She can be reached at 303-403-2900. 1. National Hospital Discharge Survey (NHDS), National Center for Health Statistics. Available at: http://205.207.175.93/hdi/ReportFolders/ReportFolders.aspx?IF_ActivePath=P,18 2. Randomised, clinically controlled trial of intensive geriatric rehabilitation in patients with hip fracture: subgroup analysis of patients with dementia Tiina M Huusko, Pertti Karppi, Veikko Avikainen, Hannu Kautiainen, Raimo Sulkava BMJ. 2000 November 4; 321(7269): 1107–1111. PMCID: PMC27517