Originally, I wanted to be a preschool or kindergarten teacher. But throughout my college courses, I didn’t feel passionate while observing the classroom setting. One day, as I sat in my ENT’s office, I noticed a sign for speech therapy. I’d never heard of it before.
My dad reminded me that my grandpa had received services from two speech-language pathologists after having a stroke—he had a hard time eating and drinking. I now know that my grandfather had been diagnosed with dysphagia. My dad raved about how kind the SLPs were—always patient and involved the family in my grandpa’s therapy. My interest was piqued.
At my next ENT appointment, I met their on-site SLP. He and I chatted about the speech-language pathology degree, the process of getting ASHA certification, and career options. The way he so passionately spoke about his career really struck me. I wanted a career I felt that passionate about!
I immediately changed my major to CSD.
Shifting to the Adult Population
As I began my CSD classes, I realized we mostly talked about services for children. I found myself wondering . . . what about adults and older adults? I thought back to the amazing SLPs who treated my grandpa and became more and more curious about what a career with geriatric patients would look like.
After searching for courses related to adult populations, I discovered a minor in gerontology. I’d need just 21 course units for the minor, which included an internship opportunity. It was exactly what I was looking for!
Throughout the gerontology coursework, I learned about the SLP-related issues that geriatric patients commonly face, including:
- Degenerative and nondegenerative conditions (i.e., stroke, dementia, and TBI)
- Swallowing disorders (and effects of malnutrition, dehydration, and aspiration pneumonia)
- Age-related hearing loss and how this impacts the quality of life of older adults
While these are huge clinical issues for geriatric patients, for health care providers, including SLPs, a big challenge is dealing with reimbursement and payer coverage of the medically necessary services they provide.
My internship was at an adult daycare center, where I got to observe the on-site SLP. Through this experience, I quickly learned that older adults can be quite feisty and unpredictable . . . and frequently need encouragement to complete their therapy sessions. While most clients worked with the SLP, I’d often find myself wondering about those who declined treatment.
During the sessions I observed, I noticed how the SLP chose materials that were age appropriate and practical for older adults. I learned that the goals for older adults are more direct and functional. For the adults in this daycare center who were receiving SLP services, the treatment goals were focused on short-term and long-term memory skills, sequencing and safety awareness such as remember their grandchild’s name, steps for cooking a meal, or recalling what to do in an emergency.
I was touched at such a personal level during this experience. It solidified that this was the population I wanted to work with as an SLP.
Silver Tsunami Alert
If you’re not already aware, the “Silver Tsunami” is quickly approaching. According to Dr. Thomas Gill, Director of the Program on Aging at Yale University, it’s estimated that by 2050, people over 65 will represent more than 20% of the population (up from 15% today). It may not sound like a lot, but that’s about 40 million additional Medicare-age people entering our already-overwhelmed healthcare system!
And we simply don’t have the staff or resources to efficiently take care of this population. As future audiologists and SLPs, we need to prepare ourselves. We’ll more-than-likely see an influx in the number of patients with swallowing disorders, hearing loss, and cognitive impairment, (to name a few), as these areas are high-risk for the older adult population.
To my #slp2b and #aud2b peers, I encourage you to seek out courses, training, and continuing education (once we become certified SLPs) for speech, language, swallowing, and hearing disorders in geriatrics. Even if your preference is to work with children, you may, one day, be called upon to work with older adults. The tsunami is coming, and we need to be ready.