HANCOCK - While May is designated Better Speech and Hearing Month, Portage Health is raising awareness on the kinds of treatment options available to improve the quality of life for individuals who may be experiencing problems with speech, language or hearing.
The annual event is spearheaded by the national American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and is designed to increase awareness about communication disorders and to promote treatment.
Lisa Davani, speech language pathologist for Portage Health, said they offer services for both children and adults.
"Some of our therapists here specialize in serving the pediatric populations who have developmental speech and language issues, or some of them have (issues) from infancy," she said, such as cerebral palsy. "Or, they may have some sort of swallowing difficulties and also they often may have some developmental issues that also arise."
Davani said they can begin working with kids as early as 18 months and even earlier if it's an issue of cerebral palsy.
When kids are 1 year old, it's typical they will begin to say single words, Davani said, such as mama, dada or baba, for bottle. Those are considered CVCV, or consonant vowel consonant vowel, words.
"If they're still doing only that at the age of 18 months to 2 years (old), that's not normal," she said. "They should begin saying two-word utterances."
At that point, Davani said, the child would most likely undergo a speech evaluation.
"By the time kids are 4 years old, 75 percent of what they say should be intelligible to a stranger," she said.
When children don't receive the proper intervention they need during their toddler years, Davani said they're not going to be ready for kindergarten and instead may be behind academically compared to their peers.
Davani, who specializes in adults, said she works with people who have a wide range of conditions from traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer's disease to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and stroke.
"I wanted to emphasize areas where, in this community, it seems like we are underutilizing speech therapy services," she said. "People may not realize that if you have a concussion, that is a brain injury."
Not everyone recovers 100 percent from a concussion in a week or two, which is typical, she said. Some can continue to have symptoms affecting a variety of things - short term memory, attention, concentration, vision and balance - and speech therapists can help with those symptoms.
"For people who are in school or in a job, if they try to go back to their regular routine life with these symptoms not working properly, their ability to perform at their prior level can be negatively affected," she said. "When they don't get the proper intervention, it increases risk of depression, some people lose a job, some have to drop out of college classes. It's really important that they get the intervention they need because I can help them compensate for these deficits while they're still recovering."
Early intervention helps individuals to better understand what's going on with them, Davani added, which decreases their risk for developing depression and abusing alcohol or recreational drugs.
Long-term therapy is important for other diseases as well, Davani said.
"Intervention is also appropriate for patients suffering from progressive neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's," she said. "Our goal is to maintain independence as long as possible."
During the Health and Safety Fair at Portage Health, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, free hearing screenings will be offered. The screenings will help give people an idea whether they need to return for a full evaluation. Additionally, most insurances do cover hearing tests. For more information, call Portage Health at 1483-1550 or visit asha.org/bhsm/.