Better Hearing and Speech Month is here, and May is a time to thank all of our speech language pathologists for their commitment to restoring speech, language and swallowing function to our patients. SLPs make eating, speaking and communicating possible for thousands of patients each year. Read on to learn more about the diverse conditions SLPs are able to treat and the tools they utilize.

SLPs frequently care for patients diagnosed with dysphagia, a swallowing disorder that can affect individuals at any of the three stages of swallowing. “Approximately 10 million Americans are evaluated for swallowing problems each year,” said Sara Minnis, MS, CCC-SLP at Kindred Hospital Boston. SLPs identify the specific problem causing the dysphagia and plan diets for safe eating, strengthening the swallowing mechanism and decreasing the potential for aspiration.

Stroke victims commonly experience difficulty with swallowing as well as self expression and word formation. Some individuals who have suffered strokes are diagnosed with aphasia, a language deficit resulting from brain damage. SLPs can encourage appropriate social communication. Depending on the severity of the diagnosis, SLPs help aphasia patients improve comprehension, organize thoughts for storytelling, note conversational subtleties such as sarcasm and tone, and react appropriately.

If oral speech is impaired, SLPs devise systems to facilitate communication. Individual Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems allow patients to express themselves through other means. “SLPs are the only folks who can recommend AAC devices for patients who are unable to use their natural speech to communicate,” said Minnis. AAC aids may be electronic (computer software and mobile applications can generate speech or enable patients to compose sentences) or manual (e.g. simple picture boards). “There are many speech-generating software programs for desktop and laptop computers,” said Minnis.

The field of speech language pathology is competitive, but the outlook for job candidates is good, according to U.S. News. With unemployment at less than 2%, U.S. News called the profession one of the best-hiring occupations of the decade. “Beyond personal fulfillment, this career offers stability and growth,” said Minnis.

Whether it’s your colleague, therapist, family member or friend, don’t forget to give the speech language pathologist in your life a pat on the back this month. Thanks for all that you do, SLPs!

By Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services