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Focusing on a silent issue

Speech Pathology Week 2017, running from 20-26 August, is focusing on ‘Communication Access: everyone gets the message' a topic that Curtin University’s Associate Professor Janet Beilby says is very much relevant to older Australians accessing speech pathology services

Speech pathology is very important to older Australians (Source: Shutterstock)
Speech pathology is very important to older Australians (Source: Shutterstock)

Many older Australians are accessing speech pathology services for a number of reasons – from stroke impaired speech, dementia speech loss, or even difficulty swallowing and dysphagia.

As a lecturer, researcher and clinician in the field for more than 30 years, Professor Beilby says that speech breakdown and inability can cause a number of social and mental health issues for older Australians.

“Often for care of older people, physiotherapists and occupational therapists come to mind but speech pathologists have a huge role to play in building a solid foundation for care for those who struggle to communicate,” she says.

“We work with all aspects of communication difficulty because sometimes elderly Australians have cognitive reasons for trouble communicating.

“All of these issues with communication lead to a communication breakdown which can be the first barrier to someone’s quality of life in aged care.

“If someone is struggling to communicate and advocate for themselves you will often see that they reduce their social interactivity and participation in community clubs, groups and organisations; and we all know that contact we have with others helps mental and general wellbeing.

“They lose confidence, become ashamed or embarrassed and they withdraw from this community and social support.”

While speech pathologists offer support to those with speech impairments, Professor Beilby also says that the families and carers of those people also benefit from the impact of speech pathologists.

“What we do goes beyond communication needs and services something that is not a problem you can see, it’s a silent issue,” she says.

“People, like a patient I have worked with who has speech impairment from diagnosed dementia, get frustrated at their inability to communicate and this makes it hard for carers and family.

“We are there to provide the building blocks for other care and are often the first health assistance service called.

“We even offer training for family members and carers to help them manage these specific communication frustrations.

“If we are there to manage these issues, we can provide support for the person and their daily lives.”

With the over 65’s population in Australia set to increase 200 percent by 2060, Professor Beilby says the need for speech support services is greater than ever.

“There are a lot of good services available – people just don’t know that they should be looking into speech pathology,” she says.

“We can help build positive outcomes and a foundation for care that everyone else can benefit from.

“It may not be something that you can measure on someone but it is absolutely crucial.”

For more information on Speech Pathology Week and available services, visit the Speech Pathology Australia website.

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