It is never fun to look back in life and play the “what if” game. If you have an untreated communication disorder or swallowing condition, you may question if you should have sought treatment earlier. You may also wonder if it is too late to seek therapy.
In the field of speech therapy, this is a common sentiment among people who have yet to receive treatment for their difficulties. The good news is that it is never too late to seek help! For those of you wondering if it is too late in your journey to receive speech therapy, we asked Dr. Jessica Galgano, executive director and founder of Open Lines Speech and Communication, to provide more information on the topic.
Does Speech Therapy Work if You Wait?
Absolutely! According to Dr. Galgano, many people who live with speech, cognitive-communication or voice difficulties — even if they have persisted since childhood — can experience significant benefit from speech therapy treatment.
Other people can benefit from speech therapy after struggling for years with anxiety associated with communicating in public or in groups. Speech therapy becomes a priority for many once they realize there is hope. People know personal and professional success requires a compelling delivery but often do not know help is available.
In other cases, people living with a neurological disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease, may experience worsening symptoms that, over time, significantly impact speech, language, swallowing, or cognitive function when they didn’t previously have such an impact on day to day function. These individuals may not know there are different types of intervention to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.
“No matter your personal circumstance or skill level, it is never too late to start treatment,” Dr. Galgano said. “Speech therapy can offer support, relief, and an individualized plan of action to help you meet your goals no matter what communication or swallowing challenges you are facing.”
When to Start Speech Therapy
In short, you should start as soon as possible. Dr. Galgano stated there are many benefits to addressing cognitive, communication, and/or swallowing difficulties as soon as they arise, including receiving the necessary support, strength building techniques, and symptom relief you need to live your life fully.
Over the years, research has shown people with neurological disorders benefit from intensive training of specific exercises, including those targeted in speech and language interventions. These treatment modalities can drive activity-dependent neuroplasticity, which supports lasting positive gains in thinking and communication and result in increased confidence and participation in daily activities.
“These findings compel us to recommend intensive speech and language intervention as soon as possible to maximize motor and cognitive resources for learning treatment techniques and improving and preserving communication for as long as possible,” Dr. Galgano said. “While early intervention is strongly urged, it is always possible to improve communication at any time during your journey. It is all about motivation, perseverance, support, and the right treatment approach.”
Common Conditions People Wait to Treat
Various factors cause people to wait to receive speech therapy treatment. These are the most common conditions that cause people to delay treatment.
Acquired or Progressive Neurological Disorders
People with progressive neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease or ALS, may delay speech therapy treatment because of the many other appointments they need to attend. Delayed treatment may also happen because cognitive-communication, speech, and voice symptoms may appear mild in the early stages, which some may overlook or not prioritize as concerns that need to be immediately addressed.
However, symptoms eventually progress and can become severe. Difficulties will have a negative impact on quality of life and can impact safety as well. When an individual has a progressive disease, intervention is strongly recommended even when symptoms are mild. Addressing issues early on can slow deterioration of skills and significantly improve function, quality of life, and overall wellbeing!
People with other communication difficulties, such as those acquired post-stroke, may wait to participate in intensive therapy due to several barriers — medical, personal, social, and financial. Following a stroke, these obstacles can make it difficult to access speech and language services.
“Therapy can provide the support needed to help a person improve their ability to think and communicate at any time on the road to recovery. This is true whether it has been months or years since the onset of the stroke. Therapy can improve function and, most importantly, instill the confidence needed to improve an individual’s ability to participate in life in ways they never thought possible,” Dr. Galgano said.
People who use their voice frequently in business settings or for entertainment purposes may find themselves with a tired, sore, hoarse, or strained voice at the end of the day. It is common for professionals not to think twice about these difficulties. However, this can lead to a delay in treatment, which can ultimately worsen symptoms and disrupt a person’s ability to meet demands and responsibilities in their personal and professional lives.
Though voice difficulties may come and go from day to day, waiting to treat vocal strain is not recommended. Sometimes, people who experience voice symptoms may be misusing or abusing their voice. If left untreated, chronic swelling of the vocal folds or development of vocal nodules may occur.
“Early intervention by a licensed speech language pathologist who specializes in the treatment of voice disorders can help a person strengthen respiratory kinematics and improve coordination of speech breathing and voicing to help a person achieve a healthy vocal quality. Individuals can learn exercises and techniques to eliminate strain and improve pitch, resonance, projection, and endurance,” Dr. Galgano said. “Effective intervention also includes strategies to identify and release tension and manage anxiety associated with voicing so people can confidently communicate with a voice that sounds and feels like it reflects their authentic self.”
Stuttering or Articulation
Many people will revisit speech therapy in adulthood for previous difficulties they dealt with as a child, such as stuttering or a persistent lisp.
Again, regardless of age, speech therapy can help a person improve speech fluency and articulatory clarity. Adults who are motivated and dedicated to treatment exercises experience high levels of success.
What Age Can Speech Therapy Start?
There are no age requirements for speech therapy — it is for everyone regardless of age! Dr. Galgano noted how Open Lines serves infants as well as 100-year-old patients.
It may seem as though young children have an advantage with their brain’s seemingly endless ability to grow and develop at a remarkable rate. However, research indicates the brain can continue to learn across the lifespan.
“The more we learn about the brain, the more we are astounded by its incredible capacity for neuroplasticity across the life span,” Dr. Galgano said. “This means that, if exercised in the correct way, with the correct targets at the right intensity, the brain is capable of synaptogenesis and sensorimotor map reorganization, which can help a person strengthen old and create new neural pathways that support improved speech, language, swallowing, and cognition at any age.”
Speech Therapy at Open Lines
At Open Lines, our team of distinguished licensed speech language pathologists offer more than a cookie-cutter treatment plan. We are a team of compassionate, solution-focused, and detail-driven professionals here to guide and cheer you on through the speech therapy process. We help you optimize your skills to help you feel confident, experience success, and participate meaningfully in important life experiences.
Motivation, perseverance, and the right treatment approach are some of the greatest drivers of successful outcomes!
Contact Open Lines today by phone at (212) 430-6800, by email at info@OpenLinesNY.com, or through our contact form. If you or a loved one are ready to take the next steps in your speech therapy journey, request an appointment to discuss your goals and review our service options.