Speech and communication are among the most critical aspects of human relationships. When someone loses their ability to speak clearly, it can be frustrating and challenging. Worse, senior citizens are more likely to isolate and withdraw and experience more loneliness when communication is impaired. Speech issues can also represent a significant safety risk because an individual loses their ability to communicate their needs, ask for help, or express feelings of pain or discomfort. For many older adults, speech therapy can be beneficial to regain the speech abilities they need to voice their needs, emotions, and ideas.

The benefits of speech therapy are varied and can be achieved through vocal exercises, adaptive strategies, and retraining of key muscles.

Coordination of Speech-Related Muscles: There are approximately 100 different muscles involved in allowing us to speak, located in the lips, neck, tongue, jaw, and chest. When people take certain medications or have experienced a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or a head injury, it can make the usage of these muscles difficult, impairing speech. This condition, known as dysarthria, can be improved by treating the underlying causes of the illness and through speech therapy.

Voice Strengthening: Age affects nearly every part of our bodies, from bones to muscles to skin. Age can also cause damage to the vocal cords and larynx, which will cause a change in someone’s voice. Symptoms may include a softer tone of speech, changes in pitch, difficulty projecting, or a shaky voice. Speech therapy can assist in minimizing throat strain and enhance vocal stamina to preserve the voice.

Restored Ability to Swallow: Dysphagia is the malfunctioning of the swallowing mechanism, which is complex and requires the proper operation of many nerves and muscles. Although trouble with swallowing is more common in senior citizens, it’s not considered “normal” at any age. Dysphagia can cause choking or aspiration (food or liquid is inhaled into the airways.) A speech therapist can recommend specific exercises to strengthen the muscles associated with swallowing or can teach adaptive strategies so eating and drinking can be less dangerous.

Stroke Recovery and Rehabilitation: Issues with speech and communication are common after a stroke, as are two other related conditions:

  • Aphasia results from damage to the brain region that regulates both comprehension and language expression. Although there are various kinds of aphasia, the most typical symptoms include difficulty finding the right words, challenges with reading comprehension, and speaking in sentences that are nonsensical or don’t make sense.
  • Apraxia is the inability to properly produce the movements needed to speak, even though there may be no tangible signs of paralysis or weakness regarding speech muscles. Speech therapy can be a productive tool for rehabilitation. Generally, the chances and totality of recovery are higher if the therapy is initiated soon after the stroke.

Can Speech Therapy Help with Dementia and Memory Loss?

Speech therapy can be a vital resource in assisting dementia patients in retaining their communication skills for a more extended period of time. Through speech therapy, a senior with dementia can be taught techniques to help them find the right words, problem-solve, and focus on what they are saying. A speech professional can also work with family members, providing strategies to facilitate communication as their loved one’s speech and cognitive abilities diminish.

A Banyan Residence is a memory care and assisted living facility based in Venice, Florida.