Author Avivit Ben-Aharon, Founder & Clinical Director, Great Speech
Have there been times when you are gathered with others in a group setting and you notice loved ones who have communication challenges are finding it difficult to engage with friends, family, and their community? As we age, we may become aware of diminishing communicative abilities and this may prevent us from easily reaching out to friends and family. The effects of these challenges can go far beyond the ability to communicate effectively. In fact, according to a recent study, older adults in particular can start to feel isolated, depressed, anxious, and lonely, and especially after the holidays. When faced with these challenges, one effective tool is virtual speech therapy, which provides a means for older adults to work on their communication skills from the comfort of their home.
Physical Changes Affect How We Communicate
Many elements provide the cues we use to communicate. Age-related changes can affect not just how we communicate with others, but also how we receive information. According to Johns Hopkins University, age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is a very gradual process that affects one in three adults by age 65. It often affects the ability to hear high-pitched sounds, such as a ringing telephone, but it can also make it difficult to understand other people’s speech. This can feel unsettling and may cause one to become less engaged.
Natural cognitive aging also affects how we process our communication, in how we verbalize, recall, and name things. It can cause us to pause and feel less confident in our ability to communicate. As this becomes noticeable, some people will begin to avoid social situations as they may feel embarrassed or frustrated by these communication lapses. This can lead to self-isolation and the decline of opportunities to socialize with friends and family.
Virtual Speech Therapy Offers Support
When you become aware of notable changes in your loved ones abilities, you should always suggest they consult with a physician to rule out any medical issues. Often these changes are simply age-related, and although they may be uncomfortable and challenging to experience, they are part of the natural aging process. We can learn new ways to adapt and maintain the communication skills we do have with the guidance of speech therapists. This helps build confidence for seniors who may engage with family and friends, either in person or virtually.
Licensed speech therapists can provide specialized support to older adults who feel the need to improve their communication skills. As a bonus, these services can be provided virtually to older adults, which makes them more accessible to those who would feel less comfortable in a clinical setting, who may have mobility issues, or who have public health concerns with the upsurge in influenza and continued COVID-19 cases nationwide. Virtual services provide an easily accessible space to learn and practice new communication strategies in a comfortable home setting.
Online speech therapy is easy to use. Patients are matched with a licensed speech therapist based on their specific needs and will receive a personalized invitation to a private video session, where they work 1:1 with their therapist. There is no one size fits all plan for speech and communication improvement, though the average duration of sessions (depending on frequency and diagnosis) ranges from three to six months. After the established time period, the patient and therapist will review the plan of care, progress and goals, and together they will map out next steps as needed. Consistent scheduling and active participation are key to success, and a strong internet connection and distraction free setting are the only requirements.
A virtual speech therapist will use a variety of means to address the patient’s specific challenges. Therapeutic strategies often include:
- Addressing articulation, fluency and voice-volume recognition through mouth coordination.
- Using and expressing language through traditional and alternative forms of communication, such as written, body and sign language.
- Use activities and strategies that may help with word recall and retrieval of information.
As we all strive to make communication easier for older adults or those who are struggling with speech or cognition, here are some examples of exercises individuals of any age can do at home:
- Straw Phonation Exercise for Vocal Strain
- Breathing Exercises for Adults who Stutter
- Naming words for improved recall and articulation
Most importantly… Practice! Utilizing additional resources, engaging in conversation, storytelling and repetition of sounds may help improve speech and communication over time.
People of all ages with speech and communication difficulties who are looking to bring in professional support can schedule a free introductory call to discuss their needs and goals. They may also ask a primary care physician for a formal diagnosis and ask for a virtual speech therapy referral to get help in the comfort and privacy of their home.
Online speech therapy also provides a safe platform for social interaction, which is particularly important for those individuals who may have lost their friends or are isolated from a family support system due to geography or other reasons. Licensed speech therapists understand how aging affects communication abilities, presenting tools, tips, exercises and strategies in a supportive and encouraging manner. This builds confidence in using the new communication skills.
While we cannot stop many of the inevitable changes that occur as part of the aging process, support is available to help us adapt how we communicate as we age. With these new skills, communicating with those who are important to us beyond the holiday season or any time we gather with loved ones can become a much more enjoyable experience.