U of A Speech and Hearing Clinic Adds Unique Interventions for Adults

By Shannon Magsam | Photos by Maggie Green

The Speech and Hearing Clinic at the University of Arkansas has been open to the public for 52 years. Speech-language therapy services continue to be available for children, and unique interventions are now available for older adults, people with swallowing disorders, and even those who have experienced a brain injury. 

Students in the U of A Communication Sciences and Disorders program also benefit. Every year they gain advanced skills through hands-on training in the clinic.

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Dyslexia and Literacy

Stephanie Hicks is a certified academic language therapist at the clinic, specializing in children with reading delays and dyslexia.

“Reading is one of the most important skills for children to learn,” she said. “It’s correlated to academic success, self-esteem, concentration, vocabulary, memory and critical thinking skills. Studies have shown that speech and language impairments in children are linked to reading difficulties. If a child is not identified early and does not receive appropriate intervention, the child may have difficulty ‘catching up’ with reading in school.”

Hicks is trained in the Take Flight program and the Sequential English Education approach, both comprehensive interventions for children with dyslexia.

Concussion and Brain Injury

People are often surprised to learn a concussion is a form of a traumatic brain injury, said Jessica Danley, a speech-language pathologist at the clinic specializing in brain injury as well as voice and swallowing disorders.

Most people typically recover in two to three weeks with adequate medical intervention and a rest period. But some symptoms may persist, affecting academic and job performance.

“Difficulty concentrating, poor time management, reduced ability to organize, high distractibility and new onset of memory problems are the most common cognitive complaints,” Danley said.

Speech-language therapy sessions can help people recover from cognitive changes following concussion or other traumatic brain injuries. For example, Danley offers memory strategy training or drill-based attention tasks to support a recovering brain.

Swallowing Disorders

One in 25 adults experience a swallowing problem each year. These problems are often the result of other health conditions, such as surgery, cancer, pulmonary disease, neurologic diseases or even the side effects of some medications.

Signs of swallowing problems may include complaints of pain, a sensation of food “sticking” in the throat, excessive coughing while eating or even unintentional weight loss. Dysphagia can affect an individual’s quality of life and overall health.

“Food is deeply important to people,” Danley said. “It’s difficult to imagine holidays, special occasions and social gatherings without involving foods and drinks in some way.”

Danley said it’s devastating to people when they can’t eat in a typical way for fear of choking or developing a respiratory condition due to a swallowing disorder.

The U of A clinic has new specialized endoscopy equipment to help diagnose swallowing issues. Graduate students receive training on how to safely use this equipment as part of the clinical education requirements at the U of A clinic while under the direct supervision of a licensed and certified SLP.

In addition to traditional treatment methods, the clinic offers the McNeill Dysphagia Therapy Program. MDTP is an exercise-based approach that progressively strengthens the swallowing musculature.

Parkinson’s Disease

The U of A clinic also diagnoses and treats conditions affecting vocal quality, loudness and pitch. Danley’s team recently received a SPEAK OUT! Grant, which is helping people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson-plus syndromes. Up to 90% of people with Parkinson’s are at high risk of losing their speaking ability.

SPEAK OUT! is a highly effective speech therapy program that helps people strengthen their muscles for speaking and convert speech from an automatic function to an intentional act.

The grant pays for students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program to receive professional-level voice therapy training. Students get free access to advanced clinical training, workbooks and an online database of materials necessary to implement the therapy program.   

“Aging Voice” Therapy

The clinic also provides uniquely designed vocal rehabilitation techniques to older adults experiencing presbyphonia, or “the aging voice.”

“It's common for people to experience a natural decline in vocal abilities as they age, but it can negatively affect the daily communication of active older adults,” Danley said. “It’s important to sustain vocal endurance when delivering a presentation, projecting one’s voice across a theater stage or speaking to family members over the phone.”

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can follow an illness or injury — or happen gradually. And one of the most devastating effects is how the loss can contribute to social isolation.

When carrying on a conversation becomes difficult or frustrating, people sometimes withdraw. That can lead to loneliness, and lonely people are at risk for other health concerns like substance abuse, poor sleep, depression or dementia. The Speech and Hearing Clinic treats a wide range of hearing-related disorders. Comprehensive hearing evaluations are available for adults and hearing screenings are available for preschool and school-age children.



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