Aug 13, 2018

When words fail: communication is still crucial

Communication is an intrinsic part of everyday life. It’s how we connect with family and friends, it’s how we interact with our community. Indeed, communication is a key part of our identity.

Beth Armstrong, Professor of Speech Pathology, Edith Cowan University, says, “The way we relate to our families, friends and carers is crucial to having an engaged life. It’s really central.”

Yet some people develop difficulties communicating later in their lives.

A video produced by Speech Pathology Australia highlights that 95 per cent of people living in residential aged care have at least one communication impairment.

To coincide with the launch of Speech Pathology Week (19 – 25 August 2018), Speech Pathology Australia has released a video that focusses on the social isolation that often accompanies communication difficulties.

A speech impairment may be having trouble speaking clearly, finding the right words, understanding others, reading or writing, or keeping up with fast paced conversations.

Losing the ability to communicate can make people feel frustrated and lonely, can prevent them from being able to make informed choices about their life and to convey basic wants and needs. People with communication difficulties may often withdraw from group activities or mealtime conversations if their communication needs are not supported. They may have difficulty asking for the information they need or providing feedback about their care.

In Speech Pathology Week, Speech Pathology Australia is encouraging Australians to ‘join the conversation’ about ‘communication access’ – and work together to create a world where people with communication difficulties find new ways to be included.

A daughter feels the loss of her mother’s ability to speak

In the video, daughter Trisha reveals the impact that her mother’s loss of the ability to speak has had on her life.

“What I find difficult for her, is it puts her in a passive position, and she relies on people to determine what she’s thinking or what she wants.”

“The sad thing is she never was a passive person in her life, she was very active… and that makes it very difficult.”

Though her mother is no longer able to speak as she once did, Trisha says she has developed new ways of communicating to ensure that she remains connected to her friends, family and community.

“I see in her great courage to interact under the circumstances. She smiles, she laughs, she engages with her eyes, she has a joke. She can still make herself understood in that way.”


Making communication a priority for all

Speech Pathology Australia has released the video to raise awareness about making communication a priority for all Australians, irrespective of age, medical condition or place of residence, said Jade Cartwright, Speech Pathology Australia (WA).

The video provides insights into modes of communication people can draw upon to better communicate and connect with people with communication difficulties, such as drawing pictures, writing words, gesture, touch, or facial expressions. When we are speaking to those with an impairment, we can slow down our pace, highlight key words, and find ways around ‘communication roadblocks’.

Changing attitudes to a ‘silent disability’

“With Australia’s population ageing, the number of older Australians experiencing communication difficulties is growing rapidly,” said Ms Cartwright.

“Communication difficulties have a profound and devastating impact on a person’s life, their relationships, and their ability to participate with those around them.

“People living with communication disorders such as aphasia or dysarthria caused by stroke, dementia, brain injury or other medical conditions can become incredibly isolated and cut-off from their surrounds.

“Losing your ability to communicate is a ‘silent disability’ that goes unnoticed by those Australians not directly affected. We need to change this.”

We support people who have trouble walking to the dining room or need to use aids such as walking sticks or wheelchairs due to physical difficulties. People with communication difficulties also need our support.

With time, creativity and support, our communities and aged care facilities can help those who are experiencing difficulties find new ways to communicate and continue to live a meaningful and connected life.

Speech Pathology Week 2018, is held on the 19-25 August. To find out more about how you can get involved visit Speech Pathology Australia’s website.

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