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Speech therapy can be an important treatment after an accident or injury to help the patient recover the ability to communicate. Speech therapy involves treatment of communication problems and speech disorders. Speech therapy can be used to treat children with speech disorders or impairments, as well as in adults who have suffered an injury or illness.
What is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy can involve assessment, treatment, and training to help people with speech disorders or speech impairments. Many people think of speech therapy as a treatment for children with speech disorders like stuttering or articulation problems with certain sounds. However, speech therapy can also be important for people who are recovering from brain injuries, stroke, or after suffering a traumatic injury to the face or upper respiratory system.
Speech therapy generally begins with an assessment of the individual’s ability to communicate, evaluating speech and language disorders, and developing a treatment and intervention plan. Speech therapy can include:
- Improving cognitive communication
- Language intervention and feedback
- Word choice and tone education
- Memory exercises
- Organization and problem-solving
- Breathing exercises
- Strengthening oral muscles
- Retraining swallowing function
- Improving social communication
Speech Therapists and Speech-Language Pathologists
Some of the healthcare professionals that participate in speech and language therapy include audiology assistants, speech therapists, and speech-language pathologists (SLPs). Audiology assistants or speech-language pathology assistants may have a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders (CSD).
SLPs undergo formal training and generally require a master’s degree and a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology. SLPs may also have a doctoral degree or other higher education or training. Other speech and language professionals include audiologists, which generally require a doctoral or professional degree.
Injuries and Medical Conditions Requiring Speech Therapy in Adults
There are a number of medical conditions, traumatic injuries, diseases, and other causes of speech and language problems in adults. Any injury or condition that affects the brain, face, vocal cords, neck, or spine may impact communication functions. Generally, speech therapy in adults can be categorized based on a medical condition or traumatic injury.
Medical Condition Affecting Language Ability
Medical conditions that affect speech, communication, or language can be degenerative conditions, diseases, or caused by infection. Some of the medical conditions that cause communication problems in adults include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Brain cancer
- Head or neck cancer
- Mouth or throat cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lou Gherig’s disease or ALS
Where there is a physical injury to the mouth, throat, or vocal cords, speech therapy may focus on strengthening muscles used to speak and articulate words. Speech therapy may also help retrain the patient to compensate with other parts of the mouth, tongue, or use of the diaphragm to communicate after damage.
Speech therapy for a medical condition that causes injury or damage to the brain, such as a stroke or brain cancer, can vary depending on the extent of the damage or injury. With a degenerative condition, the necessary treatment and therapy may change over time if the speech and language function continues to diminish. Possible treatment options may include:
- Maintaining attention and focus
- Improving memory, reasoning, and organizational skills
- Practicing communication skills in a group setting
- Swallowing skills
- Augmented communication devices
- Educating family members
Traumatic Injury Affecting Language Ability
Traumatic injuries that affect the ability to speak or communicate often include traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Brain trauma and the impact on language may depend on what part of the brain the damage occurred and the extent of the brain injury. Even a concussion can cause short-term communication problems.
With a minor brain injury, language ability can return and the patient may recover fully with speech therapy. With more severe brain injuries, the patient may need regular and routine speech therapy as part of the multidisciplinary team. Speech therapy after a traumatic brain injury may be based on an initial evaluation and assessment of the patient’s communication abilities and limitations.
Cognitive communication disorders caused by a traumatic brain injury can affect multiple cognitive processes in the brain, including more than just the language process. These processes often work together and assist or inform language and communication, including attention, memory, organization, processing, reasoning, and executive function.
Direct instruction helps the patient identify key skills and break down target tasks into smaller steps, providing guidance and feedback. A speech therapy patient may also benefit from social communication intervention, including situational training and situational coaching.
Other traumatic injuries that may affect the ability to speak or communicate may impact the face, head, neck, or through. Traumatic injuries may be caused by:
- Slip and fall
- Burn injury
- Car accident
- Construction accident
- Chemical burn
- Gunshot wound
If restorative or compensatory approaches do not allow for a full return of speech and language ability, the patient may have treatment with augmentative or alternative communication approaches. This involves replacing speech with other communication methods, such as writing, drawing, sign language, gestures, or speech generating devices. Augmentative and alternative communication can be temporary or permanent, depending on the injury.
Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is a common condition for individuals who have suffered a brain injury. Most people do not think about the need to swallow food down the esophagus and make sure food or liquid does not go down the windpipe. However, in some brain injury patients, dysphagia can lead to choking, coughing, chest infections, or pneumonia. Therapy can help the patient learn new swallowing techniques to avoid complications of dysphagia.
Malpractice and the Need for Speech Therapy
Some medical conditions or illnesses that require speech therapy are caused by accidents or degenerative conditions. However, other injuries are caused by medical mistakes. For example, if a doctor fails to diagnose an oral cancer that goes untreated until the cancer has spread, the patient may be left unable to speak because of the failure of the doctor to follow the standards of care.
In other medical errors, a doctor’s improper treatment, delayed diagnosis, or anesthesia complication can cause a permanent brain injury that leaves the patient with communication problems. The patient may need speech therapy and other medical treatment because of the doctor’s failures. When an injury is caused by medical negligence, the injury victim may have a medical malpractice claim against the doctor, hospital, or other healthcare professional.
Personal Injury or Medical Malpractice Claim
A personal injury lawsuit or medical malpractice claim will allow the injury victim to recover damages and losses, including medical care, loss of income, and pain and suffering. If treatment requires temporary or continuing speech therapy, a settlement or jury award can help cover all the costs of the patient’s continuing care.