May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, dedicated to promoting the professions of speech pathology and audiology. In a hospital setting, such as Bayhealth’s, speech pathologists often deal with disorders that can cause problems with speech, language, cognition and/or swallowing.
Meredith Sullivan, Speech Pathology manager, and Abigail Johnson, speech pathologist at Bayhealth Milford Memorial explain, “People think of speech pathology services as language and articulation, but in an acute care medical setting, swallowing issues usually outweigh language problems.”
Swallowing problems can be the result of strokes, head injuries, brain trauma, and elderly people dealing with dementia, as well as head and neck cancers.
“We’re usually the first to evaluate a patient after a swallowing problem has been noticed,” Sullivan said.
Further evaluation can be done with a video swallow study which is a moving picture X-ray of the swallow taken while the patient is eating or drinking. Treatment may begin with diet modification and compensatory strategies for safety.
“A big concern with swallowing skills is aspiration,” she added. Aspiration occurs when food or liquids enter the airway.
As the patient improves, the treatment strategies can be modified. A family member or caregiver may be involved in sessions because patients are usually asked to do “homework” on their road to recovery.
“When treating speech/language/cognitive disorders, our main goal is effective communication. Does the patient have a way to communicate wants and needs? We want to get people back to everyday life,” Johnson added.
Bayhealth employs five full-time speech pathologist between the two hospitals, all of whom hold master’s degrees and certificates of clinical competencies. For more information on Bayhealth’s Speech Pathology programs, contact Meredith Sullivan at 302-744-7239 or firstname.lastname@example.org.