Communication is the key to self-expression and healthy relationships, but more than 1.1 million Australians suffer with some kind of communication disorder.
Saturday marked the end of National Speech Pathology Week, an Australia-wide campaign to help raise awareness of the challenges associated with communication disorders and the methods available to overcome them.
Speech pathologists are specialists in all forms of communication and operate in a range of settings, including aged care environments.
Speech pathologist Karli Gleeson said 20 per cent of four to five year olds have difficulty understanding or using language, but communication disorders are not limited to the young.
Older people also suffer from communication difficulties that are associated with conditions found with increased age such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
Aphasia is a language problem that can affect speaking, understanding, reading and writing. Dysarthria is a speech problem where the sounds of words are not pronounced clearly. Other communication problems can affect coordination of speech sounds (dyspraxia) and poor voice quality (dysphonia).
“At least 30 per cent of people suffer loss of language following a stroke,” Ms Gleeson said.
“And 85 per cent of people with Parkinson’s disease have voice or swallowing difficulties.”
Ms Gleeson has been senior speech pathologist at HammondCare Greenwich Hospital for ten months. Throughout her career she has seen many patients regain their communication skills through one-on-one and group therapy.
Her sessions involve speech exercises, compensatory strategies and real-life role plays that look at functional activities, such as ordering from a menu.
She said communication is a practical tool that most of us take for granted, but there is also a high correlation between mental health and communication difficulties.
“You feel disempowered when you can’t communicate the way you used to.”
In social situations, a breakdown of communication can have an adverse effect.
“If someone has had a stroke on the right side of their brain, they may not be able to interpret intonation, so they might fail to interpret a sarcastic remark,” Ms Gleeson said.
Ms Gleeson is delighted to see two of her patients, Pamela and Wendy, self-report on their improvements.
“Pamela had a recent stroke and reported feeling anxious about communication. She initially felt silly using strategies, but once endorsed, she began to use them and now feels much more confident with talking.
“Wendy has made huge gains. She had the basic language but couldn’t express herself in more detailed sentences,” Ms Gleeson said.
“She also lacked intonation which could be misinterpreted as rude.
“Now she can talk fluently and convey her intended message.”
National Speech Pathology Week is a way of raising staff, community and patient awareness of the fact that there are a diverse range of communication problems that speech pathologists can assist with.
“People are not always aware of what our role is,” Ms Gleeson said.
“We can’t necessarily provide a cure, but we can definitely improve the difficulties that patients are presented with.”
Image: From left, Wendy and Pamela celebrate their progess. (CONTRIBUTED).