HANCOCK - While May is designated Better Speech and Hearing Month, Portage Health is raising awareness on the kinds of treatment options available to improve the quality of life for individuals who may be experiencing problems with speech, language or hearing.
The annual event is spearheaded by the national American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and is designed to increase awareness about communication disorders and to promote treatment.
Lisa Davani, speech language pathologist for Portage Health, said they offer services for both children and adults.
Kelly Fosness/Daily Mining Gazette
Portage Health Audiologist Melissa Collard performs a hearing aid fitting on patient Russ Lepisto of Bootjack at Portage Health Monday. May is designated Better Speech and Hearing Month, and June 4, during the Health and Safety Fair at Portage Health, free hearing screenings will be offered.
"Some of our therapists here specialize in serving the pediatric populations who have developmental speech and language issues, or some of them have (issues) from infancy," she said, such as cerebral palsy. "Or, they may have some sort of swallowing difficulties and also they often may have some developmental issues that also arise."
Davani said they can begin working with kids as early as 18 months and even earlier if it's an issue of cerebral palsy.
When kids are 1 year old, it's typical they will begin to say single words, Davani said, such as mama, dada or baba, for bottle. Those are considered CVCV, or consonant vowel consonant vowel, words.
"If they're still doing only that at the age of 18 months to 2 years (old), that's not normal," she said. "They should begin saying two-word utterances."
At that point, Davani said, the child would most likely undergo a speech evaluation.
"By the time kids are 4 years old, 75 percent of what they say should be intelligible to a stranger," she said.
When children don't receive the proper intervention they need during their toddler years, Davani said they're not going to be ready for kindergarten and instead may be behind academically compared to their peers.
Davani, who specializes in adults, said she works with people who have a wide range of conditions from traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer's disease to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and stroke.
"I wanted to emphasize areas where, in this community, it seems like we are underutilizing speech therapy services," she said. "People may not realize that if you have a concussion, that is a brain injury."
Not everyone recovers 100 percent from a concussion in a week or two, which is typical, she said. Some can continue to have symptoms affecting a variety of things - short term memory, attention, concentration, vision and balance - and speech therapists can help with those symptoms.
"For people who are in school or in a job, if they try to go back to their regular routine life with these symptoms not working properly, their ability to perform at their prior level can be negatively affected," she said. "When they don't get the proper intervention, it increases risk of depression, some people lose a job, some have to drop out of college classes. It's really important that they get the intervention they need because I can help them compensate for these deficits while they're still recovering."
Early intervention helps individuals to better understand what's going on with them, Davani added, which decreases their risk for developing depression and abusing alcohol or recreational drugs.
Long-term therapy is important for other diseases as well, Davani said.
"Intervention is also appropriate for patients suffering from progressive neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's," she said. "Our goal is to maintain independence as long as possible."
Melissa Collard, who joined Portage Health in March, is one of three audiologists on staff who specialize in adult and pediatric comprehensive hearing evaluation and treatment.
"What we'd like to do this month is inform the community about the services we have," Collard said. "We do hearing tests; evaluating the status of the middle ear, especially for kids who have had recurrent middle ear infections."
Collard said children who have speech delays would be seen by a speech therapist, however, and they would also evaluate them for hearing loss.
Services for hearing aid wearers are provided, such as hearing aid evaluations, fittings and sales.
"We're dealing with patients who are zero to 104 (years old)," Collard said. "Every baby that's born at the hospital in Michigan, it's a state law that they have to have a newborn hearing screening."
If the infant fails the newborn hearing screening, Collard said they would then perform a repeat screening. If the second screening is failed, she said there's a comprehensive diagnostic three-hour test they would then perform on the baby.
"When they're a week or two old, we can tell parents if they have hearing loss or not, just so we can get going on the process and avoid all the speech delays," she said. "Twenty or 30 years ago, kids didn't get diagnosed until they were 2 or 3 years old so we're able to do that right away."
Collard said changes in hearing is most often noticed by family members. Maybe the TV is turned up louder than normal, or they're noticing a loved one's involvement in conversation is limited to head nodding.
"The telephone can be really difficult because you don't have that face to face communication," Collard said. "We're all lip readers to some extent but people with hearing loss really need to have that visual input as well as the hearing."
For most people it's a gradual type of hearing loss, Collard said.
"By the time they come to see us, sometimes it's really progressed to a level that they need to do something about it," she said. "It's a lot easier to fit somebody with a hearing aid early on in the process."
During the Health and Safety Fair at Portage Health, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 4, Collard said they will be offering free hearing screenings.
The screenings will help give people an idea whether they need to return for a full evaluation, she said.
Additionally, Collard said, most insurances do cover hearing tests.
For more information, call Portage Health at 1483-1550 or visit asha.org/bhsm/.