Q&A With Abbott Terrace Speech Language Pathologists
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.
WATERBURY, C.T. — Speech Language Pathologists Shannon Skidmore and Julie Leska have been at Abbott Terrace Health Center for nearly two years and three years, respectively. Skidmore joined the team after working for another center for four years and Leska was doing the same. She’s been in the industry for 19 years.
Q: What drew you into the profession?
A: Leska: “I just love watching my patients improve. I think it’s rewarding to help them achieve their highest potential in therapy, and I just love being in a helping profession where I feel like I’m making a difference in people’s lives.”
A: Skidmore: “I knew I always wanted to do something that involves helping other people and making a difference in others’ lives. I love the geriatric population and I also love kids so I knew speech therapy involved both of those settings, so that’s really what drew me to the field.”
Q: What does a Speech Language Pathologist do?
A: Leska: “I think in the skilled nursing facility setting, it’s kind of a deceiving name because a lot of the residents hear Speech Language Pathologist and they say, ‘Oh, we can speak fine.’ They’re thinking of a Speech Language Pathologist in a school who does more language, but in this setting [working with the geriatric population], we have a huge emphasis on swallowing treatment and evaluations. We have a lot of residents that come in post-stroke or pneumonia and it’s affected their muscles they use for swallowing. That’s a huge part of our caseload and the other part is made up of a lot of cognitive treatment so working on memory, problem-solving, attention, insight and awareness, and safety. We also touch upon voice treatment.”
Q: Why is working on memory skills with residents part of your job?
A: Leska: “In this setting, a lot of times our job is to make sure that the patient can go home to their highest potential and safely, so, we need to retrain all the different functions in the brain. If someone has a stroke, and it may affect their language, or it may affect their thinking, which includes memory, processing, attention… all those are all the areas that we’re trained to look at. Any of those areas in deficit can affect them safely getting home. If they [residents] can’t remember what medication they’re taking, if they can’t remember that they have to use their walker, it affects their safety for going home and it allows us to try and come up with ways that they can compensate.”
Q: Is there a success story you found most inspiring?
Skidmore recalls the journey of a man at the center who came in January 2023 after suffering a brain injury. He could only say “yes” and “no” because of his severe apraxia, the inability to perform a movement or gesture despite being physically and mentally able to do so, and aphasia, a communication disorder. Skidmore worked with him daily and he is now able to put simple sentences together and can say his name and those of his family. She even found him an AAC device, which allows him to use a tablet to verbalize sentences. He can use this device to greet people, say his name, to share what he wants to eat, and much more. Staff at the center noticed he has become more social since adopting the technology.
The two therapists, both with master’s degrees in speech language from Southern Connecticut State University, said they enjoy working at Abbott Terrace because of the diversity of residents they see. They help treat stroke, speech, swallowing, cognitive, and much more so they note the days are never boring. Having two Speech Language Pathologists at the center is a benefit as they are able to collaborate and come up with ideas together to best treat people.