Giving Voice Back to the Patients

Language pathologist Scott Jackson

People who have difficulty swallowing or difficulty with communication because of a range of voice problems can have their conditions more accurately diagnosed and treated by state-of-the-art speech therapy technologies available through NorthBay Rehabilitation Services. The technologies include strobes and electrical stimulation devices.

Medical conditions and neurological disorders can affect your ability to speak and swallow, according to Scott Jackson, speech-language pathologist for NorthBay Rehabilitation Services. These conditions could be caused by head trauma, neck injury, stroke, tumor, head and/
or neck cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.

Patients can learn to re-use damaged or inactive swallowing muscles with coaching from a speech-language pathologist.

The vocal cords—when damaged by smoking, too much coughing or yelling, inhaled irritants or even overuse—can make it difficult for everyday people and “professional voice users,” such as teachers, singers and sales personnel, to do their jobs, or live a normal life. “If your voice is perpetually strained, it may be an indication that you have abused your vocal cords, or are not using them properly,” he notes.

Patients with these ailments can have their conditions more accurately diagnosed by Laryngeal Videostroboscopy (LVS). This device uses flashing strobe lights to “freeze” or visually slow down vocal cord movements.

Because cords vibrate at high speeds, “when they’re put in slow motion like this, we can get a very good picture of how well they are working, and how they are coming together,” Jackson explains. The technology also allows specialists to spot cysts, polyps or nodules on the cords.

Another advanced tool, a Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation device, uses electrical pulses to help patients re-learn how to swallow. Depending on where the muscle or nerve weakness is located, small electrodes are strategically placed on the patient’s throat, neck or cheeks. They send pulses to stimulate the nerves and muscles.

Then, the patient eats small servings of a variety of food and liquid textures. With coaching from the speech-language pathologist, they can then learn how to re-use damaged or inactive swallowing muscles. It could enable some patients, previously on feeding tubes, to return to eating foods.

In addition to working with an ear, nose and throat physician to diagnose voice and swallowing problems, NorthBay’s speech-language pathologists also help physicians determine if a patient is in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, by running cognitive-linguistic-memory tests. If such memory losses are found, therapists can establish a regimen to enhance those cognitive strengths. The therapists can also provide diagnostic tests for people with communication deficits, such as speech and language disorders, and stuttering.

Contact NorthBay Rehabilitation Services at (707) 646-4150 for more information about these advanced diagnostic and therapeutic tools or other speech pathology services.

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