Q&A's with Speech Language Pathologists

Q: Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) at North York General Hospital provide services to all inpatient medical and surgical programs. Can you give us an idea of the types of patients you are likely to see in an average week?

A: Our role is to assess and treat patients in the hospital with communication and swallowing deficits. Typically, we provide intervention for adult patients presenting with neurological conditions, such as stroke, head injury, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, among others. We also manage patients with respiratory issues and other medical complications, including patients with COPD and tracheostomies.

Q: What is a crucial aspect of your work that you believe can be better understood by the community?

A: A crucial aspect of our work that is not as well understood in the community is our medical role for patients presenting with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), including conducting instrumental assessments in conjunction with a radiologist.

Our ability to effectively communicate and swallow is often overlooked because it comes so easily for many of us. We often take these abilities for granted, but imagine waking up in a hospital bed unable to swallow a cup of water without choking or say your name when someone asks. Helping patients regain their abilities in these areas is both an honor and privilege.

Q: Is there a role for our community to play in supporting the work you do as Speech Language Pathologists? If so, what might that be?

A: With the current ageing population and growing complexity of the patients we see, it is important that the NYGH community continues to recognize Speech Language Pathologists as valued members of the healthcare team. We can be utilized as a resource to educate patients, families, and staff on communication and swallowing disorders to improve patient care.

Q: Have you observed any impacts to your patients due to COVID-19 restrictions?

A: Communication exchange is often broken due to PPE restrictions (i.e., mask use prevents facial expression and lip reading). Without visual cues, people with hearing loss or communication impairments may have greater difficulty understanding and expressing themselves.

With visitor and volunteer restrictions, many patients have experienced feelings of isolation. Some of our patients would benefit from family members being present during meal times to assist with feeding, provide foods from home, and engage in social interaction, which are all an important part of recovery.

The SLPs have had to become creative during this time and use alternative resources and technology to facilitate engagement with patients and their family members.

Q: For adults and/or children who stutter, what is your most important piece of professional advice?

A: For children who stutter, early intervention is key. It’s important to demonstrate patience and not draw extra attention to your child’s speech. Give them time to express their thoughts without interrupting or finishing sentences for them.

For adults, there shouldn’t be shame in having a stutter. It presents in 1 out of 100 people. There are many myths surrounding stuttering, and because it is so variable and complex it is often misunderstood. People who stutter are as smart and capable as anyone else.

We would encourage people who stutter and their families to seek resources in the community for support.