Speech and Hearing Month

By Humber River Health

May is Speech and Hearing Month in Canada. It is a time when speech-language pathologists and audiologists try to raise awareness of the importance of communication health and detecting and treating communication disorders. The organization Speech-Language & Audiology Canada has coined a theme for this month – “Speak well. Hear well. Live well”. At Humber River Health, we support that theme year round.

Jessie Leung is a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) at Humber River Health. She is one of 14 SLPs at Humber. The patients they help run the gamut from children with autism who have trouble learning to communicate, to older adults who have suffered strokes and developed aphasia, which is an inability to comprehend or formulate language.

“It can be a very hard, scary thing,” says Jessie. “With stroke victims, these are people who have been perfectly able to speak for most of their lives, and suddenly it is taken away from them.”

Because Humber is an acute care hospital, the SLPs generally focus on temporary strategies to help their patients get ready to transition in community-based care.

“The goal is always to get people back to their baseline,” says Jessie. “If at all possible, we want them to recover the functions they had before. “We just don’t have patients in the hospital for long enough to see that process through, but we work extremely hard to get it started for them.”

SLPs also do a lot of work with people who develop dysphagia, which is a swallowing disorder. It is common among people with Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke victims.

Jessie remembers a patient who was admitted with pneumonia and respiratory failure. She had lost a great deal of weight and had to have a feeding tube inserted because she simply could not swallow anything.

Nobody knew what was causing the dysphagia, but Jessie has a suspicion it might be an esophageal disorder. The problem was, the test for this disorder requires the patient to swallow a liquid, and this was something her patient could not do. Until Jessie got to work.

“We worked really hard. We just did swallowing exercises over and over until she was finally able to do it. She took the test, they figured out what the problem was, and they were able to treat her. She is now eating regular food, and whenever she comes into the hospital, I always get a big hug.”