Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick • Somerset

Therapy Helps Address Communications Disorders

May 27, 2010
Anything that impairs your ability to communicate limits your life. More than 42 million Americans of all ages are affected by hearing loss and/or a communication disorder, ranging from stuttering and hoarseness to swallowing problems and difficulty expressing thoughts. These disorders may be caused by congenital conditions, head injuries or illnesses, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or head and neck cancers. Many people with these conditions do not know that they can be helped. 

As we mark National Better Speech and Hearing Month we want to increase the public’s awareness of various illnesses/conditions that can affect communication and treatment options that can improve the quality of life for those who have problems with speaking, understanding or hearing. 

Speech pathologists treat children and adults who have communication and swallowing impairments. Speech language pathologists work with people who either cannot talk, or cannot speak clearly, people who stutter, have voice disorders or problems understanding and producing language. They also work with people with attention, memory and problem-solving disorders. A master's degree in speech-language pathology is the standard educational requirement. The American Speech Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) requires entering speech pathologists to have obtained a master’s degree in speech pathology, and requires entering Audiologists to obtain a Doctor of Audiology degree (Au.D.).

Common communication problems in children include language disorders, speech delays, voice disorders and apraxia (motor programming disorder that speech pronunciation), caused by developmental delays or congenital disorders. Therapists work with children, their parents or guardians and their doctors to identify the cause and severity of the problem and develop a treatment plan to improve communication skills. Therapy includes remediation techniques through simulated “play “ in addition to family training and education. 

Adults with speech and language impairments have usually been affected by a stroke, brain injury or other neurological disorder. Adults may also suffer from voice and swallowing difficulties due to neurological problems as well as head and neck cancer, vocal cord problems/abnormalities and chronic respiratory diseases. Therapists can help stimulate new brain pathways for communication, strengthen muscles for swallowing, or develop and train other methods of communication such as a picture or word communication board or electronic larynx. Through therapy techniques, speech pathologists stimulate the regaining of the ability to talk, understand spoken language, read and write. 

Voice problems can be diagnosed through videostroboscopy, a state-of-the-art technique that helps diagnose voice problems by examining the vocal cords in motion. Therapy can help treat or cure a variety of voice problems such as vocal cord paralysis, vocal nodules, polyps and ventricular phonation (movement of the false vocal cords during speech). 

There are three types of hearing problems, sensorineural – which is usually permanent and stems from a problem with the nerve or inner ear; conductive hearing loss – which is a mechanical hearing loss which affects how sound gets into the inner ear (such as a hole in the ear drum, fluid, or pressure on the inner ear); and mixed hearing loss which is a combination of sensorineural hearing and conductive hearing loss. Hearing loss can be attributed to noise exposure, aging, medication (such as chemotherapy), inner ear infections, and bacterial meningitis. Audiologists will diagnose the source and severity of the hearing impairment through various listening tests. Hearing problems may also be due to an auditory processing disorder which occurs when the ear is working normally, but the transfer of information from the nerve different parts of the brain is affected. Audiologists will diagnose an auditory processing disorder, but speech pathologists will treat the patients. 

The Speech, Voice and Swallowing Center at Somerset Medical Center offers evaluation and therapy for children and adults with voice, speech, language, swallowing and hearing problems. Our nationally certified speech-language pathologists and audiologists assess each patient’s individual needs and work with their families, physicians and other specialists to develop a personalized treatment plan. For more information, please visit somersetmedicalcenter.com/speech or call 908-685-2946.