Better Hearing and Speech Month
Each May, Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) provides an opportunity to raise awareness about communication and swallowing disorders and the role ASHA certified Speech-language Pathologists and Audiologists have in providing treatment.
Adults may experience speech and language difficulties for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to: stroke, neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS, head and neck cancer, and various other causes. Many of these diagnosis also cause changes in swallowing function (dysphagia). Even normal aging can result in changes in the respiratory, speech, and swallowing mechanism, resulting in a weak voice, a weak cough, or reduced efficiency in how one swallows. These age related changes may not be noticed by individuals or be problematic, until or if they become ill or hospitalized.
Hearing loss is a chronic condition that affects nearly 2 of every 3 adults aged 70 years or older in the United States (1) and has broader implications for older adults, being independently associated with poorer cognitive and physical functioning. Researchers report that untreated hearing loss is associated with more hospitalizations, increased risk of 30-day hospital readmission, increased risk of emergency department visits and longer hospital stays. If we insert a communication or swallowing problem into the mix, one could easily see the risks of hospitalization for someone who is speech or hearing impaired.
A communication impairment left untreated can result in individuals losing independence or becoming socially withdrawn, and a swallowing impairment, can significantly impact quality of life.
Speech and Hearing -You can’t have one without the other
Because my private practice is located in SW Florida, most of my patients are Medicare age and often have a hearing loss. Within the first few minutes of interacting with a patient or their spouse, I can usually tell if hearing is impaired, and upon asking, I have heard numerous excuses over the years about why a patient or their spouse don’t or won’t wear their hearing aids. Hearing aids also seem to be in numerous locations instead of in the user’s ears (i.e. in their pocket, their purse, in their drawer at home). For patients with a speech, voice, and/or language impairment, not being able to hear increases the cognitive demand in every communicative interaction. It’s hard work to pay attention and process information when you don’t hear very well, and it’s also exhausting for a communication partner who is having to constantly repeat.
If you are someone working hard to improve some aspect of speech and voice, but your spouse refuses to wear their hearing aids or have their hearing loss managed, goals for improving your communication skills will be one-sided, leaving you eventually frustrated or discouraged.
Communication, is not a singular process, and a spouse or other significant other often has to be invited into a treatment visit to help them better understand how their own communication style or behaviors may support or limit the progress of their loved ones. Most couples have styles of communicating that have been laid down early in their relationships, and if married for 20 or more years, changing or modifying behaviors will take conscious effort on the part of both persons.
Having a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease or a related diagnosis can sometimes take a toll on relationships. Multiple visits to doctors and therapists, medication regimens that are inserted into daily activities, increased dependency and a shift in caregiver roles can be waring on the best of relationships whether with a spouse, significant other, or adult child.
If speech and hearing problems are not addressed, talking to one’s spouse, which may have been a pleasurable and emotionally fulfilling part of a couple’s relationship, may gradually disappear and become another burden associated with the disease.
Licensed speech-language pathologists and audiologists are eager to help people communicate effectively across the lifespan. Take advantage of their help.
For more information about speech, language, and hearing visit: https://www.asha.org/public/
1.Genther DJ, Frick KD, Chen D, Betz J, Lin FR. Association of Hearing Loss With Hospitalization and Burden of Disease in Older Adults. JAMA. 2013;309(22):2322–2324. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.5912
Parkinson’s disease and Swallowing webinar
June is Dysphagia Awareness month, and next month, it will be my honor to provide a webinar sponsored by the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders (NFOSD). NFOSD has a stated commitment: “to provide patient hope and improve quality of life for those suffering from all types of swallowing disorders. By enhancing direct patient support, education, research and raising public, professional and governmental awareness, our mission is to advance the prevention and treatment of swallowing disorders in our lifetime.”
You might be surprised to know that 80% of people with Parkinson’s experience dysphagia over the course of the disease, and like many symptoms of Parkinson’s, onset of a swallowing problem may be subtle and symptoms may be overlooked or under-reported by patients. Even drooling, which is bothersome for some patients is not always recognized as a swallowing problem.
A small, $10 registration fee will help to support the NFOSD mission. No one, however will be turned away based on their ability to pay, and if needed, please use the promo code: MSPASS at the time of registration and the fee will be waived.
To enlist individuals in their treatment, and help them express their personality & spirit through voice. To educate and empower.
Mary Spremulli, MA, CCC-SLP