Communication is key; a look into speech therapy

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska Communication is something that as humans we learn at a young age but for some who have suffered from a stroke or brain injury, re-learning to speak, write and understand language can be difficult.

Fairbanks is home to the only adult medical based speech therapists in the Interior. Sena Gilbert is a Speech Pathologist in the in-patient setting at the Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

“A speech pathologist treats a wide varieties of areas it is not necessarily speech as most people think about. Over half of my day is probably spent swallowing and the rehabilitation of the rehabilitation process after an injury. We also work on a lot of thinking and memory issues that come after a stroke or a brain injury then also talking speech and language,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert works with patients who suffer from aphasia, a condition that affects one's ability to speak, write and understand language. But she also works with patients to treat various phases of swallowing, memory, and patient education.

"So we like to establish what is functional for them first, what is most important to them. One of the most rewarding things is helping somebody maybe say "I love you" for the first time to a family member."

Gilbert said getting the patient to become more functional so their basic needs are met is key. Sometimes that is met with pictures or words, where the patient can point to things if they can’t communicate them verbally. Other times it is just re-training the motor pattern and teaching the patients how to move their mouth and how to articulate the words.

She said communication with family, friends and others in the community is important with many patients. She said without it, we lose a sense of ourselves, and how we are able to interact and express our thoughts and emotions.

"So the most important thing I guess is if you feel like you have signs or symptoms of a stroke or if you have had a head injury or a fall and you are noticing changes with your speech or with the movement patterns with the muscle on your face that you would come to the ER right away."