Communication and Swallowing Difficulties Affect All Ages

May is National Better Hearing & Speech Month

May is National Better Hearing and Speech Month, and the Aspirus Health speech therapy team is encouraging anyone with communication or swallowing concerns to seek an evaluation. Communication and swallowing disorders are common in children and adults, yet many don’t realize they are treatable.

“Speech-language pathologists work with people every day in settings that include schools, private practices, medical facilities, and even their own homes to improve their speech, language, social, and cognitive skills,” said Jessica Hoffman, speech-language pathologist with Aspirus Stevens Point Hospital’s therapy department. “A person’s communication skills are critical at each stage of life - for young children, as a strong foundation for language and literacy; for school-aged children, as a requirement for academic and social success; and for adults, as a key part of their career and personal relationships.

Hoffman added, “Even less well known is the role that speech-language pathologists play in helping people to swallow and eat safely. Again, problems in these areas can occur across the age span, but at any stage, safe swallowing and eating are essential to a person’s health and quality of life.”

Communication and swallowing disorders may occur for a variety of reasons. In children, this may be due to low birth weight, congenital syndromes, developmental disorders, and injuries or illnesses. In adults, they are common in those who have had a stroke, brain injury, head and neck cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. Although the specific challenges that people experience can vary significantly, one commonality is that most people can improve with the help of a speech-language pathologist.

Here are some specific areas where speech-language pathologists work with children, students, and patients.

  • Speech - People with speech problems may not say sounds clearly or smoothly. This may make it difficult for others to understand them.
  • Language - A person with a language disorder may have problems expressing themselves, understanding others, and reading and/or writing.
  • Cognition - This can involve difficulties with attention, memory, problem-solving abilities, organizational skills, and judgment.
  • Voice - Hoarseness, breathiness, pain, frequent coughing, and other problems with a person’s voice may result from medical problems or from overuse or misuse. Certain professions - like teachers, musicians, and coaches - are at greater risk.
  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication - People may need or choose to use other ways to communicate besides talking. These include no- or low-tech and high-tech options such as pointing or gesturing, using picture boards, and using speech-generating devices.
  • Feeding and Swallowing - Difficulties may include coughing or gagging during meals, food or liquid leaking from the mouth, or food getting stuck in the mouth or throat. These difficulties may occur due to preterm birth, developmental disabilities, medical conditions, or illness and injury.
  • Gender-Affirming Voice and Communication - This area may focus on pitch, tone, vocal health, nonverbal communication, and more.
  • Communication Coaching - Some speech-language pathologists help with public speaking and communication style, which may include learning another accent.

If you or a loved one has concerns about a speech, language, or swallowing disorder, talk to your medical provider about a referral for an evaluation. For more information about speech, language and swallowing disorders, visit aspirus.org/therapies.