Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are regulated health care professionals who have expertise in diagnosing and treating communication and swallowing disorders in populations of all ages in hospitals, clinics, schools and in the community as well as in private practice. Speech language pathologists are an integral part of North York General Hospital (NYGH).
Speech-Language Pathologist Margit Labas-Weber works as part of several NYGH multidisciplinary teams. “My role is to assess and treat patients in the hospital with communication and swallowing deficits, we also educate patients, families as well as staff in various topics related to communication and swallowing disorders,” says Margit.
“The majority of our work on the neuro-stroke unit is to follow patients through their journey after a stroke or other neurological events,” says Margit. “Our goal is to make sure that they can swallow safely and efficiently and that they optimize their functional verbal and/or non-verbal communication skills. Most recently we have been involved in introducing supportive conversation techniques in collaboration with the Aphasia Institute, to improve the communication skills of patients with aphasia (loss of language skills due to a stroke or brain injury).”
Families, friends and anyone who is invested in the patient's care will learn from speech-language pathologists swallowing strategies, diet requirements and rehab recommendations. For example, if a patient had a stroke, a swallowing strategy may be to tuck their chin forward or turn their head to the affected side, which in turn opens up the other side and thus can make it easier to swallow. If a patient has dementia, they may keep food in their mouth for an extended period of time without swallowing. Introducing an empty spoon to cue the swallow reflex might be helpful in that case.
“It is always very satisfying to introduce oral feeding to a patient who was on tube feeding for a long time, maybe had a tracheostomy (surgically made hole that goes through the front of your neck into your trachea, or windpipe) and after the tube is removed, the patient is able to vocalize and talk. Patients are very grateful to regain these basic functions we take for granted,” says Margit.
Margit has always been interested in neurogenic communication and swallowing disorders (disorders due to nervous system impairment). Other areas of interest include voice disorders and working with acquired brain injury clients, children and adults. Margit takes pride and finds it rewarding teaching the new generation of SLPs.
Profession has expanded
Oftentimes, people think speech-language pathologists mainly work with children to correct articulation disorders and treat stuttering or, at the hospital, SLPs only see patients with swallowing disorders. “Over the last few decades, our profession really expanded to areas such as augmentative communication, auditory verbal therapy, cognitive langue deficits, accent adjustment and professional voice training, just to name a few,” says Margit.
Learn more about SLPs on the Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists website.