Understanding the benefits of speech pathology for older adults

As people age, their speech, language, memory, voice and swallowing changes naturally.

Communication or swallowing disorders can also be caused by stroke or developing a condition such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Communication Problems 

Communication problems experienced by older adults may be caused by neurological disorders such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Communication problems can include difficulties to speaking (expressive language) as well as difficulties in understanding written and spoken language (receptive language).

Swallowing Problems 

Swallowing disorders (dysphagia) may affect as much as 22% of people aged 50 and over.

Swallowing disorders have a nutritional, emotional and social impact for the person and their family. If dysphagia is left untreated or not managed properly, it may result in chest infection, malnutrition, dehydration, weight loss, and in serious cases, death.

Signs of swallowing difficulties includes:

  • coughing when swallowing
  • a wet or gurgly voice during or after eating or drinking
  • extra time or effort needed to chew or swallow
  • recurring chest infections
  • unexplained weight loss.

How can we help?

Adapt Health Care speech pathologists are experts in the assessment and management of communication and swallowing disorders. They work with older Australians in their own home to promote independence, participation and quality of life.

For more information or to book an appointment with an Adapt Health Care speech pathologist, call 1800 085 030.

Tips for communicating with older adults

  • Understand the person’s communication strengths and weaknesses. Go slowly and allow extra time – particularly for more complex discussions
  • Sit face-to-face and communicate at eye level
  • Hold conversations in a quiet, comfortable environment. Ensure good lighting and minimise visual and auditory distractions
  • Check that sensory aids are working, in place and turned on (e.g. hearing aids, glasses)
  • Speak clearly and stick to one topic at a time
  • Repeat, summarise and/or write down important points or pieces of information
  • Simplify instructions or use pictures and gestures to illustrate your message
  • Provide the opportunity for the person to ask questions or seek clarification
  • Watch carefully for non-verbal cues during conversation and caregiving tasks
  • Acknowledge and respond to communication breakdowns or frustration
  • Make signs, brochures and forms accessible for people with vision and communication difficulties
  • Use greetings and touch appropriately to connect and ensure the person is relaxed and comfortable
  • Involve older adults with communication difficulties in supported conversation and decisions about their care and activities
  • Draw upon the person’s life history, former interests and familiar topics to support and stimulate conversation
  • Find time to communicate and connect on a regular basis

The importance of speech pathology for children

Speech pathologists study, diagnose and treat communication disorders, including difficulties with speech, language, fluency and voice. Early intervention by a speech pathologist, especially for children, is important to understand, improve and overcome communication and/or swallowing difficulties.

A speech pathologist will assess your child’s level of ability in:

  • speech (pronunciation)
  • language (understanding and using words and sentences)
  • stuttering
  • literacy (reading and writing)
  • social skills
  • listening and auditory processing
  • voice
  • swallowing

A speech pathologist will work with you and your child to design a program to help your child develop the skills and abilities that is needed for improvement.

Warning signs of speech or language problems in children

  • you/others having difficulty in understanding your child
  • people thinking your child is younger than they are because of the way he/she speaks
  • your child is being teased or showing frustration because of the way he/she talks
  • your child is using fewer words than other children his/her age
  • your child stutters
  • your child’s interactions or play seems unusual or inappropriate
  • your child is struggling with reading or writing
  • there is a diagnosis that could affect speech or language such as hearing loss, auditory processing disorder, autism spectrum disorder or developmental delay

If your school aged child is showing signs of avoiding speech or getting frustrated because he/she is having trouble understanding or communicating, it might be time to book an appointment to get an assessment by a speech pathologist.

How your child’s speech and language develops

Here’s a rough guide to how a child’s speech and language skills should be developing:

18 months’ old

  • Can say ‘no’
  • Uses 10 or more words
  • Understands the names of familiar objects (e.g. ‘doggy’, ‘ball’, ‘bed’, ‘car’)
  • Answers the question “what’s this?”
  • Understands simple commands

Two years’ old

  • Can use a large variety of consonants
  • Points to some body parts when named
  • Uses two-word combinations (e.g. “more biscuit”, “Daddy gone”)
  • Enjoys listening to stories
  • Can name some pictures in stories
  • Has a vocabulary of at least 50 words
  • Can sing simple songs or nursery rhymes

Three years’ old

  • Correctly produces the sounds made by the letters p, b, m, w, t, d, n, g, h, y
  • Pronounces the final consonant in a word
  • Is able to follow a two-part instruction (e.g. “Go to the kitchen and get your juice”)
  • Can participate in short conversations
  • Puts three or more words together in a sentence
  • Asks “why?”
  • Can talk about something that happened yesterday or last week
  • Is using basic grammar

Four years’ old

  • Talks in whole sentences
  • Uses adult-like grammar
  • Asks a lot of questions
  • Answers “who”, “how”, “how many” questions
  • Tells stories you can easily follow
  • Uses language to create imaginative pretend play with others

Five years’ old

  • Explains how an object can be used
  • Answers ‘when’ and ‘why’ questions
  • Uses language to talk about past and future events
  • Participates in detailed conversations
  • Has little trouble thinking of what to say
  • Is not having too many difficulties learning to read

How can we help?

If your child is experiencing any of the warning signs listed above, we advise you to book an appointment to see a speech pathologist.

At Adapt Health Care, our speech pathologists will work with you and your child to develop a plan to improve and develop their communication skills and abilities. Our speech pathologists are able to work in the home and in a child’s kindergarten or school environment. If you prefer to visit our clinic, we have two clinics located in Buderim and Gympie.

For more information or to book an appointment with an Adapt Health Care speech pathologist, call 1800 085 030.


Frequently asked questions

Could my child just catch up eventually and grow out of a speech disorder?

Some speech disorders can persist well into teenage and adult life. When a person is older, it is much more difficult to correct these problems. Most children with a diagnosed speech disorder will need speech therapy.

What causes speech difficulties?

In most children, there is no known cause for speech disorders. In some, the disorder may be due to a structural problem or from imitating behaviours and the creation of bad habits. Regardless of the cause, your child’s speech therapist will be able to assist with the recommended treatment.