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Nearly 7.5 million Americans have difficulty using their voices, claims the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Whether they were born with a condition that makes it hard to verbalize (i.e. autism) or developed speech difficulties following an accident or stroke (i.e. aphasia), these people have one major thing in common: frustration. Imagine trying to get through a whole day without being able to express your basic wants or needs. That’s where speech therapy comes in.
Research has proven that regular sessions can help those who suffer from chronic aphasia (an inability to understand or express speech) after a stroke. According to the Cochrane Stroke Group, “many hours of [speech] therapy over a short period of time (high intensity) appeared to help participants’ language use in daily life and reduced the severity of their aphasia problems.” Another study by the Cochrane Movement Disorders Group found a possible link between speech therapy and a reduction in speech difficulties associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Problem is, it’s often hard for people to get to a speech pathologist’s office at all, let alone multiple times a week. Luckily, online speech therapy programs are offering a viable, out-of-office treatment plan that works. Read on to find out how.
What Is Speech Therapy for Adults?
During therapy, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) will work with a patient to help prevent, diagnose and treat speech, language, swallowing and communication disorders. Treatment includes various components such as exercises to strengthen the muscles used in speech and swallowing. SLPs will also aid patients in targeting areas to help improve articulation, sound production and clarity.
What Is Aphasia?
“Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production of comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. Aphasia is always due to injury to the brain—most commonly from a stroke, particularly in older individuals,” says the National Aphasia Association. About one third of people will develop aphasia following a stroke, claims the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.
In more severe cases, other methods such as sign language, an electronic communication device or a notebook containing pictures or words, may be required to help a patient communicate.
How Speech Therapy Helps
“People of all ages with reduced or impaired ability to communicate and/or swallow may benefit from speech language pathology services,” says Brooke Hatfield, Associate Director of Clinical Issues in Speech-Language Pathology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The five main disorders treated by speech therapy are:
- Speech disorders: Difficulty producing speech sounds.
- Language disorders: Trouble understanding others or sharing thoughts, ideas or feelings. Aphasia, a familiar form of this disorder, is commonly experienced after a stroke.
- Social communication disorders: Trouble with the social use of verbal and non-verbal communication. This is common in adults who suffer from autism or a traumatic brain injury.
- Cognitive-communication disorders: Problems organizing thoughts, paying attention, remembering, planning and problem-solving. This is experienced by adults who have suffered a stroke, traumatic brain injury or dementia.
- Swallowing disorder: Also known as dysphagia, those who suffer from this disorder have difficulty feeding and swallowing.
What Do They Do in Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy sessions differ depending on your diagnosis. Here’s an example of what they could include:
- Aphasia: Strategies to help patients describe a recent event (i.e. recalling names for common objects). A SLP may also help patients to practice scripts for regular activities (i.e. ordering a cup of coffee) and train the patients’ partners to understand and support them at home.
- Parkinson’s: Exercises to help patients speak louder and more slowly. They will also be taught strategies to reduce repetition and work around difficulties they experience during every day distractions (i.e. talking while walking).
- Autism: Methods to increase awareness of social cues such as body language and eye contact.
- Swallowing Disorders: Adapting changes in posture while a patient eats and drinks as well as exercises and strategies to optimize the swallow response.
How Long Does It Take for Speech Therapy to Work?
“Progress and benefit from treatment can depend on a number of medical factors, including severity of the impairments and time post onset or injury, as well as other individualized factors including motivation and family support,” says Hatfield. Plus, every brain is different, meaning every treatment plan has a different success rate.
That said, Hatfield also notes that many patients and their families will notice an improvement within the first few sessions as they come to understand the speech and language problem and begin to use strategies to ease the burden of communication.
How to Do Speech Therapy at Home
For some, gaining access to therapy can be stressful. Whether they lack access due to medical funding or because they live in a place with fewer resources, many who need regular therapy are unable to receive it.
A study by the University of Cambridge found an online program to be effective at treating aphasia sufferers at home. While regular, face-to-face interaction is always the best course of action, researchers found the online-based Tactus Therapy to be a viable second option to make sure stroke victims receive the frequent help they need.
Home-based programs are also encouraged as an important part of speech and language pathology, says Hatfield. “Most clinicians assign exercises and/or activities to be done at home between treatment sessions to help establish new skills or strategies, or to maintain the gains the client has made after discharge from treatment.” Examples of these activities include practicing swallowing with effort 10 times, twice a day, using an app on a tablet to complete naming or reading exercises or making a phone call to use pre-learned speech strategies to help the patient to speak more clearly.
For those interested in starting an at-home regime, make sure to get advice or better yet, a program, from a registered speech and language pathologist. Or, choose an online therapy program, again with the help of a SLP. Then, keep these tips in mind:
- Choose a quiet spot.
- Pick a time when you’re at your most energetic.
- Treat each session as an appointment that can’t be missed and practice at the same time every day.
- Don’t do it all at once. Take a break every 20 to 30 minutes.
- Have family members around. They can help make sure you understand what you are supposed to be doing, as well as provide cueing and coaching to help you get more out of the session.
- Tie your practice into your daily routine, Hatfield suggests. For example, do your swallowing exercises while at the sink to brush your teeth. Or, use a word-finding technique when you’re reviewing the news over dinner.