Spring is a time for new beginnings, and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has taken the opportunity to remind us of the importance of speech and hearing health. Each May has been set aside to celebrate and promote Better Hearing and Speech Month, and the ASHA chooses a theme each year to help focus our energies. This year’s theme is “Communicating Across the Lifespan.”
When you think of “better communication” what life stage do you think of first? Some of us will immediately think of early childhood, when the basic units of sound, speech, and language are being combined into meaningful ideas, a truly beautiful phenomenon to witness. Others of us will think of an adult romantic relationship that requires intentional work toward hearing and communicating our feelings and needs. Still others of us might think about the seniors in our lives, those who face new challenges to communication in the form of hearing, speech, or language. Let’s put our attention on that last group as we consider how to promote better communication.
Understanding Communication Disorders
Many life events can bring on a communication disorder. In addition to the conditions experienced in childhood, adults can also suffer from a breakdown in the communication process. These dysfunctions may occur at a single moment in time, or they can gradually occur over time. For example, the immediate incident of a stroke can cause aphasia, which is a speech and language disorder that results in distorted connections between reading, writing, spoken conversation, telling time, and using numbers. Apraxia of speech is another condition that is related to brain damage. This condition can occur from a traumatic incident, injury, or severe illness.
Other communication problems result from degenerative conditions that take time to show up in a person’s ability. For example, dysarthria is the weakening of the muscles associated with speaking and breathing. This condition may cause slurred speech that slowly degenerates with time. Voice disorders involve changes in pitch, volume, and timbre of speech that can negatively impact communication. Many things can cause voice disorders, including nodules on the vocal cords, excessive yelling, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis. Those with voice disorders may not notice immediately that they have suffered a communication problem.
In addition to those with speech and language disorders, hearing loss is a major cause of communication disorders among adults and seniors. One of the ways to identify if the source of a communication problem is related to speech, language, and cognition on the one hand or hearing loss on the other hand is to examine the person’s ability to read and write. If those skills remain intact, it is likely that the person does not have a cognitive issue but rather that hearing loss is the source of the problem. Those who have hearing loss may find a number of other solutions to their communication problems. They may move closer to the sound source or the individual speaking, or they may decide to read lips rather than relying on sound alone. Although these shortcuts can “make it work,” they are considered means of satisfying rather than optimizing the communication possibilities. One of the problems with this strategy is the interrelated nature of cognition and hearing. Those who have communication disorders related to hearing loss are more likely to develop cognitive dysfunctions, including dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Posey Hearing Center
With these possible communication disorders in adulthood and through the aging process, let’s take the opportunity of Better Hearing and Speech Month to create a better future. The first step you can take for yourself or your loved one is to schedule a hearing test.
Posey Hearing Center offers the complete range of audiological testing for any of your communication needs. After a thorough consultation, our experts will be able to choose the right type of hearing examination to identify the source of your struggle. With that information in hand, our staff can also recommend a series of solutions, including hearing aids or other assistive technology.
Better Hearing and Speech Month is the perfect time to make an appointment to meet with our team of professionals. Whether the source of your communication problems have to do with speech, language, cognition, or hearing loss, we can point you in the direction of better communication.