Make Every Month Better Hearing and Speech Month

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Sponsored by Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center

May is officially Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM), a period when speech and language professionals spend extra time raising awareness about symptoms and treatments of speech pathology. It is also a time when speech and language professionals are honored for the services they provide to the community. But recognizing when to seek help from a speech-language pathologist (SLP) is critical all year round. Because of this, two SLPs from Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center offered their thoughts on BHSM, provided insights into the profession and gave guidance on when and how to seek treatment, no matter what time of the year it is.

Meet the Speech-Language Pathologists

 Anna Gehring, M.Ed., CCC-SLP is an SLP at Sentara Therapy Center – Reid’s Prospect (4565 Daisy Reid Avenue, Suite 215, Woodbridge). Gehring also works as needed at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center. She has experience treating adults with both acquired and progressive neurological disorders. She holds special interest in traumatic brain injury, post-concussive syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. Gehring said, “I provide therapy for speech, language, swallowing, voice and cognitive deficits (for example, memory, attention, information processing, etc.). Therapy can include anything from exercises to strategies to tasks to prepare for daily activities.”

A Northern Virginia native, Gehring was raised in Alexandria and has been with Sentara since February 2019, working in both the inpatient and outpatient rehab departments. She received her Bachelor of Science with a concentration in human development and psychology from Virginia Tech in 2015 and went on to earn her Master of Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of Virginia in 2018. In her free time, Gehring said she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and playing with any dog she can find.

Dr. Andrew Rivière, Ph.D, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist working for Sentara Home Care Services in Woodbridge. He serves as the acting team coordinator by helping to organize daily operations and communication between field clinicians, patient care and physicians. Rivière has worked with adults and children, focusing on language, cognitive and swallowing rehabilitation. He also works as needed at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in acute care and outpatient therapy. Working with both children and adults, he has always loved language and believes that everyone should be awarded the ability to communicate. In addition, dysphagia, (difficulty swallowing) and cognitive rehabilitation are equally important in his assessment and treatment practices. Rivière received his doctorate from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in communication disorders with a minor in French.

“My grandmother, who suffered from dementia, often told me that I had the best job in the world because I got ‘paid to talk and help people talk.’ She was indeed correct,” Rivière said. “I love my job and love getting to meet and know families through our treatment.”

Rivière believes in what he does so strongly that, in coordination with the Virginia Association of Home Health and Hospice, he has advocated on Capitol Hill for home health and speech-language pathology services for clients and their family. “I was surprised at how our congressmen and congresswomen lacked the understanding of our services,” he said. “So, I took on a personal mission to ameliorate this dilemma. I do not hold back when it comes to ensuring that my clients and their families receive the services they deserve.”

Better Hearing and Speech in May and Beyond

For Gehring, May is an especially important month. She said BHSM is “a chance to increase awareness about communication disorders and the important services that SLPs and audiologists can provide for the community.” She believes it is her responsibility to educate the community on communication disorders and let people know that speech therapy is not only for people who may have a stutter or lisp. “The ability to communicate and think are such significant parts of everyday life, and an SLP can provide you and/or your caregivers support to reduce challenges in these areas,” she said.

Gehring also said she would like for the public to take some time to discuss with their loved ones any changes in the following areas: communication (speech, language, hearing, voice), swallowing, memory, concentration or a combination of these areas. If there have been changes, she wants them to inform their primary care physician and request a referral, because “speech therapy services can greatly improve their health, safety and quality of life, and it can also reduce caregiver burden,” she said.

Rivière said, “I consider BHSM more than an appreciation of SLPs, audiologists, assistants and speech/hearing scientists. The month is a time to advocate for and educate the community about the resources that SLPs and audiologists can provide to clients and their families.”

As a medical professional, Rivière said he pushes for internal staff education, especially during BHSM. “One of my dear friends is a well-seasoned RN who often recounts how simple staff education helped to reshape and promote our services for the betterment of our patients,” he said. “This factor is crucial, and working as a well-informed team allows for more accurate screening measures for individuals in need.”

Know When to Seek Treatment

 Both Gehring and Rivière agree it is crucial to seek treatment no matter what time of the year. That requires recognizing the signs and symptoms of speech problems. According to Gehring and Rivière, individuals should seek treatment if they experience any of the following:

  • Difficulty with communication (word-finding or following a conversation)
  • A hoarse or rough sounding voice
  • Trouble completing daily living activities
  • Increase in forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty with eating and drinking, including increased coughing during meals or feeling liquid goes “down the wrong pipe”
  • Challenges articulating sounds, words or sentences
  • Cognitive decline (difficulty thinking and/or processing)
  • Trouble swallowing (dysphagia)

By no means is this list exhaustive, and more information can be found on the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website (asha.org) Rivière said. “I would like for individuals and families to consider if they or if someone in their family needs SLP services. I would also encourage individuals over 50 to get a triennial hearing screen and any help needed.”

Sentara provides SLP services for both adults (outpatient and home health) and children (outpatient only) in Prince William and parts of Stafford and Fairfax counties. “For outpatient, you only need a prescription to get started. For home health, a homebound status is often required, and your provider sends a referral packet to our home health agency to get you started,” Rivière said. “Also, SLPs have home health admission privileges, and that means we can admit you to home health services without other nursing or therapy disciplines.”

Gehring said about seeking speech-language therapy, “The first visit includes an informal interview and testing as needed. Then based on those results, an individualized treatment plan (which also decides frequency of visits) is developed. The treatment plan may include educational resources, counseling, support for caregivers and a home exercise program. We also offer telehealth (video) appointments, which are safe and convenient.”

The Sentara Therapy Center – Reid’s Prospect phone number is (703) 523-8750. “If you have any questions at all, please feel free to call, and I am happy to answer your questions,” said Gehring.

For questions about home health services, call (571) 285-1820.

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