Many residents in nursing homes and long-term care have limited speech or develop communicative problems. When a resident is set up with a speech pathologist, put on a care plan, and commits to their plan, they have the opportunity to improve their quality of life through their improved relationships, improved communication to express their needs, and a better sense of self. Nursing homes strive to help each resident attain their highest level of functional ability, and this includes restorative speech therapy and language skills.

Many of the elderly are at risk for mental disorders and depression. According to WebMD, depression affects 6 million Americans aged 65 or older. Clinical depression can be debilitating in many ways, but particularly for senior citizens because they are already at risk for many illnesses and complications. Depression adversely affects those aged 65 and older by magnifying potential cardiac disease, the likelihood of death from unassuming viruses, and impair the likelihood of rehabilitation and recovery.

A significant aspect of addressing clinical depression in long-term care centers resides in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech pathology. The remedial treatment works to improve quality of life, which can have a powerful effect on mental disorders and illness. Interestingly, speech therapy specifically, can consequentially provide a better quality of life for those suffering from mental illness.

A 62-year-old woman suffered from schizophrenia, bronchitis, and hypertension. She lived in a nursing home, but she chose to live in isolation because of her lack of communicative skills. The medication she was taking caused her tongue to swell, obstructing any chances of verbal communication or balanced diet. A case study was performed on her by Jean M. Novak and Karen M. Kapolnek to test the positive effects of speech pathology for those in long-term care suffering from mental illness. One year of transdisciplinary rehabilitation included speech-language pathology, nursing, and group sessions in communication. The speech therapy made it possible for her to begin expressing her feelings with enhanced speech lucidity. Following a year of the therapy, the woman spent less time in her room, “her behavior changed dramatically,” and “she even was able to joke with the other residents.”

Speech pathology, in this case, was key to helping the woman with her mental disorders and dramatically improved her quality of life by allowing her to establish relationships and make connections with her peers. She was able to have a more fulfilling experience because the nursing home worked toward long-term care.

There are many speech pathology disorders and a few that are addressed in nursing homes include swallowing, memory, problem-solving, comprehension, and expressivity. For example, difficulty swallowing can cause issues with eating and nutrition, which can cause a lack of energy and incite apathetic and depressive behaviors in an individual.

Many therapists strive to use speech pathology interventions to assist individuals in three primary ways. Firstly, in tolerating a ground diet without symptoms of aspiration pneumonia. Secondly, safe swallowing techniques are practiced to prevent aspiration. And finally, strengthening oral motor function is addressed to ensure daily speech and swallowing capabilities.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities endeavor to heal and rejuvenate patients and elderly individuals by targeting issues that, when resolved, can drastically improve the quality of life. They pursue improved mental health by utilizing therapies. Addressing speech pathology can affect individuals greatly by improving diet and communication skills. Nursing homes use speech therapy to fulfill their responsibilities and goals as long-term health care providers.

Written by:
Anna Salvania