Speech-language therapists, often referred to as SLPs in the health community, specialize not only in addressing speech disorders that hinder clear speech and sound production, but also in managing cognitive communication disorders, vocal, language and swallowing issues. Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation’s experienced SLPs provide comprehensive care to patients dealing with a variety of medical conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, surgeries, cancer, and neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease, dementia or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Swallowing disorders, clinically termed dysphagia, can occur when patients have difficulty swallowing foods or liquids. Often accompanied by symptoms such as coughing, throat clearing or alterations in vocal quality during eating or drinking, dysphagia can lead patients to feel pressure or fullness in their throats or experience choking sensations. “Patients will often tell us they feel like food is stuck in their throats and won’t go down, or they feel like they get strangled when they drink. This is often very scary for them because they don’t know why it keeps happening or how to keep it from happening. We can order swallowing tests to help determine the best treatment approach and develop therapy plans to reduce or alleviate symptoms,” said Heather Ford, speech-language therapist with Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation.
Language disorders emerge when patients struggle with understanding others (receptive language) or expressing themselves. This disorder may also affect a person’s ability to read, write or spell and often results with patients feeling unable to find or spell the right word. Voice disorders, known as dysphonia, occur when there are alterations in a person’s pitch or quality, often producing a voice that sounds hoarse, breathy, or weak. “Voice therapy aims to implement techniques that enhance, preserve or restore a healthy voice for effective communication,” Ford explained. In contrast, speech disorders affect a person’s ability to articulate speech sounds clearly, as seen in conditions such as stuttering.
SLPs also adeptly manage cognitive communication disorders related to information processing in the brain. These challenges impact a patient’s communication abilities due to challenges with attention, memory or organizing thoughts. “Patients often report struggles with remembering names or details like they could before. Our approach involves thorough evaluations to understand the situation and challenges the patient faces, establishing personalized goals and one-on-one therapy sessions aimed at achieving swallowing, language, cognitive-communication, voice and/or speech goals,” Ford said.
Ford’s dedication to this field stems from personal experience. “Both of my grandmothers had trouble with memory and word-finding following strokes, which is what sparked my passion and interest in this field. I’m currently caring for my dad after a massive stroke and I’m learning a whole new side to stroke recovery and caregiving. I was born and raised in Blount County, and it's an honor and a privilege to love and serve this community as a third-generation employee of Blount Memorial Hospital,” Ford said.
In addition to speech-language therapy, Blount Memorial Total Rehabilitation offers licensed occupational and physical therapists treating a variety of conditions. To make an appointment, ask your provider for a referral or call 865-238-6118.