Living Well: Why adults need speech therapy — MRH grows speech therapy program |

Living Well: Why adults need speech therapy — MRH grows speech therapy program

Memorial Regional Health staff/For Craig Press
Symptoms of swallowing dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Inability to swallow
  • Having the sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest or behind the breastbone (sternum)
  • Drooling
  • Hoarseness
  • Bringing food back up (regurgitation)
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Food or stomach acid back-up into the throat
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Coughing or gagging when swallowing
  • Having to cut food into smaller pieces or avoiding certain foods because of trouble swallowing. Source: The Mayo Clinic

There are several reasons adults may need speech therapy, but a common one is neurological disorders caused by conditions such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis or stroke. With these conditions, people can struggle with speaking clearly and swallowing.

“Sometimes, people with neurological disorders lose their ability for clear speech because the tongue muscles are affected. Other times, they don’t have enough volume. We do breathing and articulation exercises to help improve their speech,” said Joan Parnell, MS, CCC-SLP, certified speech language pathologist with Memorial Regional Health.

Until now, people living in Craig have had few options for speech therapy. MRH is growing its speech therapy program and will offer both adult and pediatric speech therapy. Parnell joined the team earlier this month, and Jenna Harrison arrived this week and will offer pediatric services. Parnell offers speech therapy through home health visits, as well as through MRH Outpatient Rehab and Transition Care.

“Patients with neurological disorders might have really low volume of speech due to poor breath support and weakened lung musculature. They can be hard to hear in loud places. I help increase volume through breathing exercises that regulate their breathing and teach them to talk on the exhale and take a breath mid-sentence, so they can finish with volume,” Parnell said.

Swallowing problems are common with neurological disorders, as well; often, the two issues go hand-in-hand. It’s important to address swallowing issues so people don’t choke while eating. Swallowing difficulties are common as we age, because our throat and tongue muscles weaken with age.

“I have patients who find it frustrating to go out for a meal. People talk to them, and they try to answer while eating, and end up choking because food gets in the airway, which remains open rather than closing when they swallow,” Parnell added.

To solve this, patients receive therapy and can be treated with a VitalStim — a device that uses electrical impulses to stimulate and retrain the muscles used in swallowing. MRH is offering modified barium swallow studies to diagnose swallowing dysphasia. The study uses a moving X-ray to show what happens when a patient swallows.

To help people with speech or swallowing issues, Parnell sometimes uses tongue exercises. The tongue plays a large role in both swallowing and speaking. For example, the tongue gathers up food from the teeth, forms a ball then pushes food to the throat to start the swallow.

“I tell people therapy is the one place that it’s OK to stick out your tongue. We work on range of motion and strength building, working the tongue like we would any other muscle,” Parnell said.

Parnell typically sees patients a few times per week over four to six weeks for swallowing disorders and speech issues. She also has patients complete exercises at home.

Most insurance plans cover speech therapy with a doctor’s order. If you are interested in learning more about speech therapy at MRH, call 970-824-5992.