Nov. 1, 2010
Elizabeth Klipp, 404-413-1356
|GSU speech-language pathology graduate student Michaela DuBay leads a discussion about hearing loss and strategies for communicating at Lutheran Towers.|
ATLANTA – Growing up with an older brother who stutters, Elizabeth Omaivboje decided early on to pursue a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, so she could help him and others who struggle to communicate.
This semester, instead of working with school-aged children with speech problems, Omaivboje is helping seniors like Frances Foote learn strategies to help with communication and cognitive decline related to aging.
“It is important to reach this population and keep them informed that there are ways to stay involved and communicating,” said Omaivboje. “I’ve never worked with the elderly population, so I was a little intimidated at their knowledge-base, but they have been so open to learning and trying the different techniques we introduce with each session.”
Georgia State’s Communication Disorders Program, within the College of Education, recently developed an outreach program called “Boost Your Brainpower: A Communication and Swallowing Wellness Program.”
The weekly wellness program is led by a GSU speech-language pathology instructor, Michelle Bartolozzi, and two graduate students for active seniors at Lutheran Towers, a local housing community for seniors.
Now in its second semester, the program educates seniors on how to maintain their communication and cognitive skills, and what to do when these skills may start to decline.
On a recent Monday afternoon, GSU speech-language pathology graduate student Michaela DuBay led a discussion about hearing loss and strategies for communicating at Lutheran Towers.
“When is it difficult to hear?” DuBay asked the group of 20 seniors gathered in the dining area.
One woman replied, “I was at my daughter’s house this weekend and everyone was talking together at the same time, and I couldn’t understand them. So I just sat there like a dummy.”
The other residents nodded their heads in agreement and chimed in with other examples of when it is hard to hear, such as talking on the phone or hearing the television.
“We’re going to talk about strategies and techniques for dealing with those situations,” DuBay said.
Each week during the fall semester, the graduate students take on new topics. So far, topics covered include the anatomy of the ear and what happens to it as we age, warning signs of a stroke, the impact a stroke can have on cognition and the importance of physical fitness on memory. The clinicians even incorporated yogic breathing and use of the Nintendo “Wii” video game system into activities.
“We’re giving them strategies they can use in their daily lives to help maintain their memory and cognition,” said Michelle Bartolozzi, CCC-SLP, a part-time instructor in speech-language pathology at GSU. “The outcomes of the program have been great. Some of the residents who participated in the program last semester are back again this time.”
The graduate students have also shown residents tips on how to organize a grocery list, compile and put emergency contacts by the phone and create a safe place for keys and other important items.
“For our folks, it’s an intergenerational experience,” said Linda Shelles, service coordinator at Lutheran Towers. “Having young people in the building brings smiles and energy. And this program makes the residents more comfortable. They aren’t happy they can’t hear as well as they once could, but at least they learn from the program that it’s a normal part of aging. And students provide our seniors with many good strategies for things they can do on their own.”
Lutheran Towers isn’t the only place where Georgia State’s Communication Disorders Program graduate students are making an impact. They are also helping in metro Atlanta public schools, city hospitals such as Grady Health System and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the Atlanta Children’s Shelter, a daycare center for children who are homeless.
“One of the main reasons students want to come to Georgia State is because they’ll get a very intensive clinical experience,” said Colleen O’Rourke, Communication Disorders Program coordinator. “We want them to be well prepared no matter what work setting they go into.”
Located in the College of Education, Georgia State’s Communication Disorders Program prepares students to be speech-language pathologists who can work with individuals of all ages in a variety of settings. It is the only Communication Disorders Program of this kind in the city of Atlanta, and it is relatively small. Only 18 to 20 students are admitted each year, and currently there are 45 students total in the program, allowing for plenty of one-on-one time with faculty and clients.
In the final year of the master’s program, students are placed full-time in a school for one semester and in a medical setting for another semester. By the end, students must accrue a minimum of 400 hours of clinical experience, but most students exceed that requirement earning between 500 and 600 hours.
The Lutheran Towers outreach program is one of the clinical experiences the GSU Communication Disorders Program offers to graduate students to help give them real world experience.
“We were looking for an opportunity where our students could work with older adults and this was a great fit,” said Debra Schober-Peterson, director of the GSU Speech-Hearing-Language Clinic. “The wellness and prevention program focuses on education and activities to help seniors keep their brains active. Our students gain valuable experience working with this unique population."
For more information, please visit: http://education.gsu.edu/epse/1730.html