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McGill Speech-Language Pathologists help elderly adults with communication difficulties

Volume 4, Issue 1, 2007

Satellite clinics are just one way that Speech-Language Pathology (S-LP) students from McGill’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (SCSD) are able to gain the clinical experience and hours they require to graduate. These clinics are not just beneficial to McGill students – the community also benefits because services are provided in places that otherwise would not have any. Satellite clinics were developed by SCSD with special funding provided by the Quebec Ministry of Education for supporting health care professionals’ entry into the workforce. The School hires S-LPs to supervise students who provide the speech and language services to the clientele.

One such satellite clinic benefiting from student services is at the Jewish Eldercare Center (JEC), a facility committed to providing long term care for elderly adults, many of whom have suffered strokes or have degenerative diseases that affect their ability to communicate. It is a busy place that offers living accommodations and full-time care to its 300-plus residents. There are doctors, nurses, occupational and physical therapists on site forming interdisciplinary teams to meet the individual needs of the residents. Yet, one service the facility was missing was Speech-Language Pathology. In many cases the residents no longer qualify for public services, and without the support of an S-LP, they would continue to struggle with their ability to communicate.

In a clinical practicum where a collaborative approach to learning is adopted students are expected to assume a more active role in their learning by taking more responsibility during the clinical learning process. This is likely also why the 2:1 peer coaching model (a CE provides a practicum to 2 students simultaneously) has proved a very suited cooperative learning model, as students depend on each other to instil joint clinical growth during the learning process.

In January 2006 Abdulsalam Alhaidary was the first McGill S-LP student to do a placement at the JEC satellite clinic under the supervision of SCSD’s Head of Clinical Program, Ms. Jeanne Claessen. Four residents were identified as candidates for therapy: Two had quite severe communication deficits following a stroke, which limited their ability to have a conversation; another resident had a severe speech deficit due to a car accident many years ago; the fourth presented with a very weak voice and speech quality due to deteriorating muscle functioning as a result of Parkinson’s disease. These residents received treatment one day a week over the winter semester as well as one day per week during three months in the summer, when McGill S-LP students do their final internship. Abdulsalam describes his experience as a very rewarding one, noting that it was a rare chance to start offering services where there were previously none. The residents he worked with were appreciative of this and very motivated in therapy. The outcomes of the intervention were reflected in the residents’ everyday communication: for example, on resident learned to name his family members - a very important goal for himself and his spouse; another learned to speak loud enough for her husband to hear her.

Since Abdulsalam began at the JEC over a year ago, two other McGill SLP students (Laetitia Booysen and Garth Foote) have had rewarding experiences doing placements at the center under the supervision of Ms. Claessen. In a short time the students have become a part of the center’s community and the services they provide have been acknowledged with an office, a place all their own to use while at the clinic. It is an ideal example of what a satellite clinic should be: an opportunity for students to get hands-on experience and a chance for residents to improve their speech and language skills.

Supportive Communication: Tips for Helping Adults with Communication Problems.

Authors: Gabrielle Pharand-Rancourt and Mélanie Sicotte

Many older adults in long-term care settings experience difficulty communicating. This can be caused by many factors including neurological disease such as a stroke. Aphasia is a specific communication disorder that can result from a stroke. It is an acquired communication disorder caused by brain damage. This disorder can affect one or more of the communication modalities of speaking, listening, reading and writing. Not all individuals with aphasia may present with the same communication difficulties, but communicating with a person with aphasia can be challenging. For example, a person with aphasia may have difficulty expressing basic needs to healthcare workers, communicating opinions, telling personal stories to or socializing with friends, family and other residents.

Maybe you know someone with aphasia or another communication disorder that is living in a long-term care setting. Tips for communicating with this person can be found on the Aphasia Institute WebsiteThis website describes an approach called Supported Conversation for Adults With Aphasia (SCA), which was developed by Dr. Aura Kagan at the Aphasia Institute. The communication tips for people with aphasia and the people they communicate with are based on two basic principles. First the person with aphasia and their communication partner should be creative in finding ways to get their message across, using gestures, facial expressions, drawing, printing, objects or pictures, and yes/no questions. The second principal is to convey respect for the person with aphasia, ensuring that they understand that they are competent individuals, able to make their own decisions. The goal of SCA is to give individuals with aphasia opportunities to have adult conversations and interactions. We encourage you to seek further information from a speech-language pathologist or from one of the general references below.

General References on the web:

Website of The Aphasia Institute

Website of The Quebec Aphasia Association [French]

Scientific References:

Kagan, A. (1998). Supported Conversation for Adults With Aphasia: Methods and Resources for Training Conversation Partners. Aphasiology, 12, 816-830.

Kagan, A. (2001). Training volunteers as conversation partners using Supported Conversation for Adults With Aphasia (SCA): A Controlled Trial. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 44, 624-638.

Legg, C., Young, L., & Bryer, A. (2005). Training sixth year medical students in obtaining case-history information from adults with aphasia. Aphasiology, 19, 559-575.

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