Mackay Hospital and Health Service speech pathologists are using Speech Pathology Week as an opportunity to highlight the profession and work speech pathologists do to help everyone communicate with confidence.
More than one million Australians have a communication disability that affects a person’s ability to understand and be understood by others.
Mackay Base Hospital speech pathologist Brittany Vella works with patients on the hospital’s rehabilitation ward and said an early interest in communication and creativity now helps her support patients with language, speech and swallowing difficulties.
“Music and the arts have always been a part of my life and I found that speech pathology was good mix of art and science where I was able to help someone on their journey to improved health,” Brittany said.
“Throughout my first year as a speech pathologist I rotated through a variety of units but it was the adult rehabilitation caseload and area of voice that really became a passion for me.”
Brittany said while speech difficulties are a specialty for speech pathologists, it is important to recognise that communication is more than just speech.
“There are a number of issues such as swallowing, using and understanding language, voice and fluency that can affect communication and quality of life,” she said.
“I often work with patients whose swallow function has been impacted by a stroke, acquired brain injury (ABI) or radiation therapy.”
Severe swallowing difficulties are known as dysphagia and can occur following a stroke, brain injury or nervous system disorder, such as Parkinson’s Disease.
“Food or drink may be hard to swallow causing a person to cough or choke, which is extremely frightening for both patients and families,” Brittany said.
“Levels of dysphagia can range from mild to profound. As a speech pathologist, I help patients overcome this disorder by strengthening throat muscles and learning new swallow techniques.
“Sometimes this can take months but being able to tell a patient how far they’ve come is such a satisfying and emotional moment, knowing the difference you’ve made to someone’s health and quality of life.”
Speech Pathology Week is being marked by the health service’s 16 speech pathologists this week (23-29 August) raising awareness on the challenges faced by Australians with a communication disability and recognising communication as a basic human right.