Speech Pathology and Aged Care
As Australia’s population continues to age, the speech pathologist’s role in aged care becomes increasingly important. It is our role to advocate and provide communication and mealtime support for older people in the community as well as in residential aged care facilities.
What is the role of a speech pathologist in aged care?
Speech pathologists can assist older people in aged care to have a better quality of life. Speech pathology services may include assessment, individual and group therapy, counselling and education of clients, family, and staff. Advice regarding dietary changes and swallowing strategies and advocacy for older adults with communication and swallowing difficulties.
Supporting Swallowing Difficulties & Mealtimes
Older people experience difficulties with mealtimes at a significantly higher rate, often complicated by multiple co-existing conditions. These difficulties are often chronic or degenerative requiring continued support as their needs continue to change over time. Mealtime participation difficulties directly affect quality of life. They can lead to social isolation and loss of independence.
Mealtimes of older people may be impacted by dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) as well as cognitive, sensory, emotional, and behavioural difficulties. Dysphagia occurs in varying degrees in over 50% of aged care residents. Individuals with dysphagia are at increased risk of food/fluids entering their lungs, difficulty swallowing medication and at a very high risk of malnutrition.
As human beings, mealtimes are inherently social. Often those with swallowing difficulties experience reduced participation in mealtimes and increased social isolation. Speech Pathologists ensure swallowing safety as well as optimise social participation during mealtimes. Some ways in which we do this are:
- Providing textured modified diets and thickened fluids
- Providing education and training to caregivers and support staff (face to face or via telehealth) regarding safe swallowing positioning and strategies as well as enhancing the mealtime environment to increase participation
- Providing swallowing exercises to rehabilitate swallowing muscles
- Optimising the environment to enable both safe mealtimes and social participation at the same time
As people age normal changes to their communication occurs due to sensory loss, such as hearing and vision. Additionally, their chance of acquiring communication disorders increases due conditions such as stroke, dementia, Parkinson Disease and cancer.
Communication difficulties reduces both independence and the opportunity for meaningful life participation. It can impact relationships with family and limit autonomy in both daily activities as well as in important decisions. Speech Pathologists can support communication by providing:
- Completion of communication assessments to identify strengths and weakness
- Communication therapy in the areas of motor speech, language, literacy, voice, cognitive-communication, fluency, and assistive communication technology
- Developing communication aids and resources
- Implementation of low or high-tech communication devices
- Communication partner training with caregivers and support staff
- Enriching communication environments to provide communication opportunities
- Monitoring the client and their changing needs over time
Speech Pathology and Aged Care at National 360
At National 360, we believe that aged care speech pathology services are imperative in supporting individuals’ long term to maintain their independence for as long as possible, and to optimise their quality of life. Our speech pathologists can provide these individuals with the appropriate education, strategies, and tools to adequately express themselves and participate more effectively and safely in mealtimes, and therefore reduce the risk of being neglected.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing difficulties with communication or difficulties at mealtimes, our team at National 360 can provide support and guidance regarding speech pathology and aged care.
You can find out more about speech pathology and aged care services here.
Ready to make a referral? Complete an online referral form here.
We are proud to be supporting Speech Week 2022 – Learn more about Speech Week by visiting Speech Pathology Australia.