As I knocked on the door to enter my patient’s room, excitement and nerves took over. I was a new grad with a new job at a hospital and excited to change the world. “Hi, I’m Erica, and I’m from speech therapy,” I said as I entered the room. “I talk just fine,” was the response I received. I stumbled over my words as I explained that I was actually there to check the patient’s swallowing. In my mind, I was thinking, “Six years of schooling didn’t prepare me for that response!” That was just one reaction of many that I have received over the last several years of working with the adult and geriatric population as a Speech-Language Pathologist.
While speech therapy services are more well-known in the pediatric world, the knowledge of what services a Speech-Language Pathologist can provide for the adult and geriatric population is not quite as widespread. The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) defines a speech-language pathologist as “the professional who engages in professional practice in the areas of communication and swallowing across the life span. Communication and swallowing are broad terms encompassing many facets of function. Communication includes speech production and fluency, language, cognition, voice, resonance, and hearing. Swallowing includes all aspects of swallowing, including related feeding behaviors” (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 2016. Scope of practice in speech-language pathology, www.asha.org/policy/).
As a Speech-Language Pathologist who has focused her career on working with the adult and geriatric population, I can confirm the importance that we hold in assisting this population. We do not “just do speech,” as I have heard many times in my short career. That is just a small portion of what we can do. We evaluate and treat swallowing disorders, aphasia/language disorders, dysarthria/speech production deficits, oral motor strengthening/retraining (i.e., apraxia), acquired cognitive-linguistic deficits (i.e., memory, reasoning, problem solving, attention), voice disorders, and much more.
It has been an incredibly rewarding career path, as I have had the opportunity to give the gift of voice to somebody who had a trach placed and could not make any noise until I worked with them. I have helped patients say “I love you” to their spouse for the first time after having a stroke. I have helped people go from eating and drinking nothing to having that first drink of water in weeks or even months. I have helped retrain people’s memory and cognition so they can return to work. I have been able to improve vocal quality for people who have suffered with hoarseness and other vocal cord trauma in order to improve their ability to communicate with their family and friends.
To say that I have a passion for working with this population would be an understatement. One of my biggest goals of being in this career is to educate and spread awareness to people about the services we provide. As Daniel Webster said, “If all my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would soon regain all the rest.”
Erica is currently employed with Integrated Therapy Specialists, PC in Muscatine and also provides her services to UnityPoint Health – Trinity Muscatine Hospital. She has a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and a Certificate of Clinical Competence. She is certified in PROMPT (PROMPTS for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets) and Lee-Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT), targeting those with Parkinson’s disease. She looks forward to providing her services to this area.