Speech-language pathology students improve seniors’ quality of life

Communication was always important to Rossi Cameron, a retired investigative reporter who fought for people’s human rights over her entire career. 

In late 2016, she suffered a stroke that resulted in her developing aphasia, which affects her production of speech, and had to move to the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre

The students developed strategies to help Rossi Cameron (right) communicate with her daughter Zanne Cameron. They are thrilled with Rossi’s progress.

"It’s frustrating, but you have to be able to laugh at yourself and have a good sense of humour," says Rossi. 

“There is a great unmet need for speech-language pathology services for older adults in residential care,” states Dr. Stuart Cleary, associate professor at the University of Alberta. “Only four speech-language pathologists provide communication and swallowing services to all continuing care facilities in Edmonton."

With support from the staff, Stuart launched a pilot project in which three of his students are completing their practicums at the Edmonton General. They focus on helping residents who have suffered a stroke, brain injury or degenerative disease that impairs speech and swallowing, affecting their quality of life. 

“If somebody can’t walk, that’s a very concrete thing that you can see. If somebody is struggling with language, it’s not as apparent,” says Emily Sullivan, speech-language pathology student at the University of Alberta.

The students tailor each treatment plan to the individual. They use many tools that work for a variety of residents regardless of physical or mental limitations. 

Rossi’ s biggest goal is word finding. The students give her cues to help practise saying a word, or they give her strategies if she isn’t able to say a word. 

This exercise is similar to the game Taboo. Rossi must describe what she sees on the iPad screen without saying its name, and Emily has to guess what it is.

“Something that’s so lovely about working with adults is that they’re so motivated to get back to where they were,” says Janelle Collet, speech-language pathology student at the University of Alberta. “It’s really inspiring to work with these individuals who want to do anything they can to have the same relationships with their friends and family that they had before, and they work so hard to get there. It's beautiful." 

Rossi’s family says her ability to use language and communicate has improved over the span of a few months, and the students have been a blessing. 

“I’ve gained a life,” says Rossi with a smile. “I know I can’t be completely fixed, but I know that there is hope. The girls are fabulous. They care and they’re so patient with me. We’re getting help and it takes some of that stress off my daughters." 

The students expect to help 28 residents improve their communication by April 2017. Stuart hopes to bring a second batch of practicum students to the Edmonton General next fall. 

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