It is never too late to seek help with a speech problem, even if it stems from childhood, according to speech pathologists. Renee Davis, of the Gosnells Community Speech Pathology Clinic, said some adults had language problems that were never seen to when they were young.
"They slip through the cracks as children or sometimes there are age cut-offs for children who can have therapy," she said.
Stuttering was the most common childhood speech problem that persisted into adulthood.
Communication problems could affect all aspects of life, including work, job interviews and personal relationships.
"It can even affect things like ringing up to order takeaway or going into the library and asking for a book," Ms Davis said. "It can be very isolating and quite damaging to your sense of self-worth."
The Gosnells clinic provides free outpatient speech pathology services to people over the age of 18 years with communication and/or swallowing difficulties. The oldest patient is 103 years old.
The clinic, run by final-year Curtin University speech pathology students under the supervision of a qualified speech pathologist, deals with many communication problems, including those that result from vocal nodules that develop because of poor vocal use (teachers and singers), and stuttering.
Ms Davis said people with progressive neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and motor neurone disease could be helped by therapy. Dementia and stroke were other common reasons for people to seek treatment.
Patients who had surgery for mouth or throat cancer and lost part of their tongue or their entire larynx (voice-box), could be taught to use electro-larynxes or valves which enabled sound to be generated.
Ms Davis said people who had car accidents and suffered speech problems such as slurring or difficulties in understanding figurative language (such as being told to "turn over a new leaf", which prompted them to start looking for a leaf) could also be treated successfully.
And people who had a stroke often required sessions with a speech pathologist to improve their speech, reading and comprehension.
"Supposing someone has had a stroke and has a lot of word-finding difficulties, we do an assessment and look at where the breakdown is occurring," Ms Davis said.
"We also look at what their needs are in the community - we don't want people to be able to get up and do magnificent public speaking if they are never going to do that. We are just trying to make it functional."
Some adults refer themselves to the clinic, seeking to have work on high-level language such as being able to read a passage and make inferences from it.
Once patients have achieved their goals, they might choose to attend a "maintenance" group at the clinic. There is one for stroke survivors and one for people with speech difficulties. Both are free.
"We have one lady who has been coming to our group since 1999, for stroke," Ms Davis said.
Some patients required an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device to assist them.
"Either they use an iPad with apps on it to help them communicate or they will have a book with all the things in it they need that they can point to," Ms Davis said.
"So we find all those for them as well."
Erin Godecke, postdoctoral fellow in speech pathology at Edith Cowan University, said speech pathologists often helped adults with swallowing difficulties. These could result from a stroke, cancer, neurological diseases, or old age.
"If people have an acquired brain injury, often their swallowing mechanism does not protect their airway so that food can go into their lungs rather than their stomach and they run into all sorts of problems such as malnutrition, chest infections, pneumonia, dehydration," Dr Godecke said.
Treatment was usually successful.
"For swallowing disorders after stroke, for example, 85-95 per cent of people get back to eating and drinking a normal diet and fluids."
The Gosnells clinic runs a home visiting service for people who are bed-bound or unable to get to the clinic, and it will conduct sessions in public areas such as workplaces where patients may have difficulties speaking to customers.
"Because speech pathology deals with two really significant aspects of your life - your communication and your eating - people are really motivated for treatment," Ms Davis said.
Curtin and Edith Cowan University both offer a four-year undergraduate degree in speech pathology.'People are really motivated for treatment.'
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