What does a speech therapist do in hospice care?
By Terri Durkin, SLP and Maggie Vescovich, SLP
It may seem like every time you turn around you are welcoming another member of the hospice team to your home. The nurse, home health aide, and social worker may have been expected. But a speech therapist?
At some point, the doctor may recommend that your loved one be evaluated by a speech therapist. Many caregivers are puzzled by this recommendation, because most people associate speech therapists with treating children who have speech problems, or maybe helping adults who had a stroke or suffered a brain injury. But speech therapists (SLP) work with a variety of disorders, not only problems in communication that can result from neurological or surgical events, but also difficulties with swallowing and nutrition. That’s because the SLP is an expert in the anatomy and physiology of the muscles of swallowing, which happens to be the same muscles used for speech production-namely, the tongue, the lips, and muscles located in the back of the throat. There are four primary ways the SLP helps with your loved one’s care:
- Consults to patients, caregivers and other members of the hospice team in the areas of communication, cognition and nutrition;
- Provides teaching in the area of communication skills in order to help patients better participate in decision-making, maintain closeness with caregivers and friends, and assist the patient in fulfillment of end-of-life goals;
- Assists in reducing difficulty with swallowing problems, improving comfort and increasing satisfaction with eating;
- Receives and provides input related to the overall plan of care from all members of the hospice team.
The speech therapist is sensitive to the fact that loss of the ability to make one’s needs known or the inability to tolerate one’s favorite foods is often devastating to the patient and their caregivers. As a valued member of the hospice team, SLP works closely with the caregivers and their loved ones to come up with plan to facilitate improved communication as well as maximize eating pleasure.
Terri Durkin and Maggie Vescovich are speech therapists working with Holy Redeemer Hospice.