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How a speech and language therapist can improve your or a loved one's communication

Patsy Westcott / 25 July 2012

An estimated one in five of us experiences difficulties in communication at some point in our lives. If you – or someone you care for - are one of them, a speech and language therapist can help you find your voice

Speech therapist with stroke patient
Therapists can work in different settings to suit the patient, such as a nursing home, hospital or your own home

Who needs their help?

Speech and language therapists can help anyone who has difficulty speaking or communicating. For instance, if you have problems as a result of a stroke, a head injury caused by a fall, Parkinson's disease or dementia. They can also help with difficulties caused by head, neck or throat cancer or by hearing impairment.

“Our role is to identify, assess and diagnose speech, language and communication difficulties and to restore the ability to express yourself and to listen to and understand others,” explains Mary Heritage, Head of Speech and Language Therapy Services for Derbyshire.

Many problems affecting speech and language also cause swallowing difficulties and helping to ease these is another important role. “Swallowing disorders can cause life-threatening problems such as choking, chest and other infections and make it difficult to eat and drink, which can not only lead to nutrient deficiency but can also cause a great deal of distress and depression,” says Mary.

What does speech and language therapy involve?

The first step is a thorough assessment to check how you communicate and how this is affecting daily life. They may ask you to describe your difficulties (if you can), observe how you communicate and do some simple checks such as asking you to cough or to swallow a sip or two of water to identify specific problems.

They will then come up with an action plan to help improve matters. This is likely to include things you and your friends, family and carers can do or, occasionally, one-to-one or group therapy.

“If you have problems communicating, for instance, the speech and language therapist will check what you understand - in conversation or reading - and suggest ways to overcome any difficulties. They may suggest ways for you or your carers to modify speech to make understanding easier, ways to initiate or maintain conversation, to find the right words and put them together to make sense, as well as helping you turn the sounds you use into an intelligible form. They may also suggest exercises to practise,” explains Mary.

“If you have problems swallowing they can assess which are the riskiest consistencies and suggest ways to prepare drinks or food to make them easier to manage. The aim is to help you eat and drink independently for as long as possible and to ensure that mealtimes are as enjoyable as possible for everyone concerned,” she adds.

Where do speech and language therapists work?

Speech and language therapists work in many different settings.

“Local services vary but hospitals and health centres often provide outpatient services and many services are provided at home - whether your own or a care home. Wherever possible we are part of multidisciplinary team that includes carers and other health and social care professionals, who can help make sure any interventions are as effective as possible,” says Mary. “Usually we will want to involve the main carer as well as other family members to help obtain the best possible outcome.”

How to find a speech and language therapist

Contact your GP, local community NHS provider or hospital. Some services ask for a GP or consultant referral, but many accept self referrals.

Find out more

For the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, call 020-7378-1200 or visit

All Speech and Language Therapists must be registered with the Health Professions Council the Allied Health Professions watchdog. To check, visit

Did you know?

  • 50,000 people who have a stroke every year have speech and language difficulties
  • Up to 75% of stroke survivors have swallowing problems immediately post stroke
  • 700,000 people with dementia have speech, language and communication needs


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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