The Job of A Speech Language Pathologist at Southeast
Better Hearing and Speech Month is being recognized throughout the month of May to raise awareness about communication disorders and ways to help manage them. Athena Health Care Systems has a team of Speech Language Pathologists at our managed centers to help residents experiencing a wide variety of swallowing disorders and other speech and cognitive deficiencies.
NORTH EASTON, M.A. — If you ask Kristen Bourque, the title ‘Speech Language Pathologist’ doesn’t even scratch the surface of what she does at Southeast Rehabilitation & Skilled Care Center. That’s why she’ll often introduce herself as a Speech and Swallowing Therapist.
She has worked at the North Easton, Massachusetts center for 11 years. She had worked at multiple buildings as a contracted therapist but was later offered the job at Southeast. It lets her stay in one place and focus on those patients. Focusing on one group of people has been more beneficial for both the patients and Bourque as she can be around during meal times and monitor how they swallow. Monitoring eating is a part of the job of a Speech Language Pathologist many don’t know about.
“Our title of Speech Language Pathologist doesn’t encompass everything we do,” she said. “There’s language. There’s the whole cognitive piece.”
Swallowing is impacted by many things like ALS and Parkinson’s disease, she explains. Bourque says dysphagia, a swallowing disorder, is something she works with a lot at the center. There are also many factors of aging that can impact one’s ability to chew and swallow like loss of teeth. Bourque said the goal isn’t always to get someone back to eating normally again, but to find the best way to safely eat. That can include modified diets like softer food texture as well as strategies like drinking between bites of food.
She was first introduced and drawn into the profession when she had a younger cousin with aphasia, a language disorder. Bourque, who received a degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of New Hampshire, would attend speech therapy with her cousin and that was her first time learning about it. She originally got into the field to work with children and began working in a rehabilitation center during graduate school and fell in love with it.
“Working with the adult population, they’re motivated to get better and want to work,” she said.
Bourque said it’s important to have knowledgeable people like herself at the center because the diagnosis of dysphagia is often overlooked, so she can appropriately identify a disorder and manage it.
“People have all kinds of pulmonary issues, and sometimes there’s no known reason, no known cause,” she said.
Beyond swallowing disorders, Bourque also works with communication challenges residents may face. For example, if a resident with dementia is behaving in a particular manner, it may be that they don’t know how to communicate their needs or wants. Bourque can work with the team to help them better understand what signs to look out for.
“We can work with staff to be like, ‘Every time this behavior happens it’s because they have to go to the bathroom or they want a drink’ and we can help reduce behaviors by increasing the communication barriers that sometimes the patient and staff have between each other,” she said.
She loves the team approach at Southeast to better each person and working alongside the other therapists and dietary team to make that happen. The team approach helps make someone better, she explained.
The Emerson College graduate began working at a neuro-rehabilitation facility at the age of 16 with children and adults. She also worked as a speech assistant before becoming the professional herself. She received a master’s in speech pathology from Emerson.
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