How Online Speech Therapy Works for Older Adults

Experiencing a stroke–or any type of neurological medical event–is life-changing. This is true not only for the person who’s affected, but for their family and caregivers, too. In many cases, the person’s way of living and communicating is flipped upside down. Because of that, they likely need medical and therapeutic support. 

Older adults may need speech therapy to treat aphasia, dysarthria, dementia, swallowing problems, or apraxia. Online speech therapy is an option in many of these cases. However, it’s not uncommon for adults or their loved ones to rule out online therapy. They may not be familiar with it, or they may think it doesn't work as well as in-person speech therapy.

Much research has been done on the effectiveness of teletherapy, and studies show that it works just as well as in-person therapy. For example, research shows that online speech therapy is effective and reliable for adults with aphasia and dysarthria

Of course, there are situations where in-person therapy is best for the client. But for many people, online speech therapy can be just as helpful–with some added benefits, too.

What happens during online speech therapy sessions?

The idea of online speech therapy might feel a little foreign. After all, when we think of speech therapy, most of us picture sitting across from a therapist in a clinic or office.

But with online therapy, or teletherapy, you still meet face-to-face with a licensed speech-language pathologist. Through the use of video technology like Zoom, online speech therapy can feel as if you’re in the same room as your therapist, even if they’re hundreds of miles away!

Online speech therapy will likely start with an evaluation. The speech therapist will assess and identify the client’s current strengths and weaknesses. They’ll also discuss treatment goals with the client and/or their family and caregivers. A collaborative effort will help the client make the most functional, meaningful gains in their everyday life.

The speech therapist will determine how often the person should receive speech therapy. Many adults have speech therapy sessions twice a week. 

After the evaluation, the speech therapist creates a treatment plan. This plan consists of measurable short-term and long-term goals. During each session, the speech therapist takes data against these goals. This helps them track the client’s progress week to week, as well as make adjustments to treatment techniques as needed.

What types of activities can be done during online speech therapy?

Many people don’t realize that some of the same activities done during in-person speech therapy can be done during online speech therapy as well. Let’s look at some examples.

If a person is in therapy for cognitive communication, they may need to work on memory strategies. The speech therapist may do structured verbal or visual memory tasks, such as asking the client to recall something they talked about or something they saw in a picture the speech therapist showed them. 

But with online therapy, the home environment can be used as well. Activities can be more meaningful and focused on tasks specific to the client. For example, they may work on remembering where they put their glasses, or on using a calendar to remember their appointments. 

If treatment is focused on aphasia, the speech therapist can use a variety of techniques to help the client communicate better. These may include verbal exercises to build their speaking skills. In some cases, AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) may be used to help the person improve their ability to communicate day-to-day. The speech therapist will also teach the client’s loved ones and caregivers how best to support and communicate with them at home.

If someone is being seen for a voice disorder, the speech therapist will teach the client a variety of vocal exercises. They can also practice speaking tasks that mimic daily conversations, and review ways the client can use their techniques when speaking with others.

Keep in mind that while speech therapy sessions are necessary for growth and improvement, so is the practice done between sessions! After each session, the speech therapist should provide home practice exercises to help the person make the best progress. For example, for a client with aphasia, their therapist might have them practice techniques such as Copy and Recall Treatment (CART) or Verb Network Strengthening Treatment (V-NEST).

The benefits of online speech therapy for older adults

Here are some of the top reasons adults and their loved ones choose online speech therapy instead of in-person:

Flexibility and convenience 

With online speech therapy, you’re receiving professional support in the comfort of your home. There’s no driving or coordinating rides–you simply walk to a quiet room and log on. And many online speech therapists offer services in the evenings or on weekends, which may make it easier for family members to attend with you.

Plus, your loved one can attend even if they don’t live nearby! They can simply log on from their own location.

Your home environment

When speech therapy is done virtually, not only does it give the client greater scheduling flexibility, it gives the therapist a window into the client’s home environment. They can use household items in therapy as needed.

Family members or caregivers who are at home with the client can attend alongside them, or talk with the therapist at the end of the session. This way, loved ones know what the client is learning in therapy and can help them practice throughout the week.

Greater access to care

Some people may not have a local speech therapy clinic near them. Or, the speech therapy offered nearby may not be specialized in their area of need. Using online technology allows people to access services they otherwise couldn’t easily receive.

Online speech therapy may cost less

Another aspect of online speech therapy that many people appreciate is the cost. Especially if you don’t have health insurance, or your insurance doesn’t cover speech therapy services, online speech therapy can be an affordable way to get the treatment you need. That’s because online speech therapists don’t have to pay many of the traditional costs of running a clinic, like rent, overhead, and certain administrative costs. 

At Expressable, our clients have another benefit: access to our client portal. The portal features educational Learning Paths covering the strategies taught in therapy sessions. Clients and their caregivers can access examples, tips, demo videos, quizzes, and more.

Plus, through the portal, you'll receive weekly home practice activities tailored to your needs. Remember, the more you practice speech therapy techniques at home, the faster you'll make progress! The portal makes that even easier to do.

If you or your loved one is in need of speech therapy, consider online therapy. You can talk with a licensed speech therapist at Expressable during a free consult call–we’d be happy to answer your questions! 

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