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Speech therapy is giving people something to talk about.

As the name suggests, speech therapy is indeed an important treatment for speech issues, but people may not realize that it’s about a lot more.  Speech therapy can also enhance important functions of daily life, like eating and swallowing, as well as communication and cognitive issues. These treatments are increasing the quality of life for people everyday. 

"If you are having trouble speaking, hearing or using language, you may benefit from some speech therapy,” said Amy Lewandowski, a speech therapist with the Visiting Nurse Association of Ohio. “Speech therapy can also improve our most basic and important functions: eating and swallowing, as well as communication and cognition.”

Lewandowski says that getting the right speech therapy can even be life changing.

“Swallowing and improving communication are the two things people are most excited about that we can fix or improve.  Eating is supposed to be enjoyable.  My patients are so excited when they can get back to eating,” she said.

As a VNAO homecare speech therapist for five years, Lewandowski says that she sees first-hand how patients benefit from the convenience of receiving their speech therapy at home. “Home health is so unique,” she explained. “We get to see the patient’s daily home environment. It allows us to be very personalized with our care and helps us determine what is realistic for the patient in their home.”
VNAO speech therapists are trained and certified in a special treatment for swallowing called VitalStim. The innovative therapy delivers a very low electric current through two electrodes placed on the neck to stimulate and strengthen weak swallowing muscles. 

In addition to treating swallowing problems, speech therapists also help those with cognitive issues caused by a wide variety of sources such as early-to-mid-stage dementia, brain injury or stroke, and people in care for psychiatric and mental disorders.

Many of these patients struggle with higher-level cognitive tasks like paying bills, making doctors’ appointments, medication management, or going to the store.  Lewandowski emphasizes that help is out there. She has a wide variety of strategies to improve these types of tasks, which are key to living at home and in the community safely.

“We might work on math and organizational skills by doing bills together at home or planning a grocery list within a specific budget,” explained Lewandowski. “Medication management is a big one. It’s one of the main reasons people end up in the hospital because they are not taking their medications correctly. 
“All this helps patients be as safe as they should be to continue living independently,” she added.

Other speech therapy patients benefit from a communication device known as an AAC device or Augmentative Alternative Communication.  It is an iPad or tablet that helps people express what they want to say in several different ways, such as using graphic images.

It can be especially useful for people having trouble reading, writing, speaking, and understanding language due to strokes or brain injuries that damage the area of the brain that processes language. Lewandowski describes it as a break in the connection between the brain and the mouth. 

“The words are in your brain but they cannot come out,” she said. “It can be so frustrating for people when they cannot get their thoughts together. We can help them work through it. People don’t realize these options are out there.”

She teaches strategies like using gestures rather than words, physical cues, or a sheet with pictures. 

These strategies also can be utilized by those suffering from dementia.

“With a diagnosis like dementia, we cannot fix the dementia, of course, but we can make the patient and caregiver’s lives easier,” she explained. “We don’t change the person, we change the environment presented to them.”

VNA of Ohio is a homecare pioneer. Founded in 1902, its team of nurses, therapists, aides, and social workers have a long history of bringing support to people where they feel most comfortable: in their own homes.  For more information about VNA speech therapy home care, please call (216) 931-1300.

Signs that you might need a speech therapy evaluation:
A doctor’s order is needed, but help is out there. 
-    Coughing every time you swallow
-    Getting dehydrated or unexplained weight loss
-    Difficulty articulating thoughts or finding the right words
-    History of stroke or dementia or brain injury
-    Have trouble following simple conversation
-    Talking less or getting frustrated easily when reading or listening
-    Trouble with basic problem solving