Speech Pathologist Enjoys Challenges of Career
Michelle Hilger is one of Lakeview Village’s on-site speech pathologists. In honor of Better Hearing and Speech Month, we sat down with Michelle to learn more about speech pathology and how it helps enrich lives.
Searching for a Career
When Michelle Hilger arrived at Kansas State University, she was searching for the next, right step. Accordingly, she enrolled in a career and life planning class, where she completed an assessment that, through a series of questions, would point her (she hoped) to a worthwhile career path. Speech Pathologist was at the top of the list.
Armed with this new information, Michelle had a conversation with her father. In his youth, her father had a stutter and worked with a speech therapist. He told Michelle that his therapist was an inspiration. After a little more soul-searching (and job shadowing), Michelle decided to pursue speech pathology.
Finding a Calling as a Speech Pathologist
Now working as a speech pathologist, Michelle hasn’t looked back.
Recently, she met a patient who couldn’t swallow. His dysphasia was so pronounced, that he was getting all of his nutrition from a feeding tube.
“Food was important to him; when he couldn’t eat, he lost pleasure (from eating) and his social life suffered,” Michelle said. “His spirits were low.”
The pair worked and worked and worked. One day, the patient walked in waving a paper in the air exclaiming, “I passed, I passed!”
One the piece of paper was a note saying that he had passed his video swallow and would be able to eat again.
Speech pathology isn’t just for people who need to re-learn to swallow. Michelle assists with all aspects of communication – including teaching patients how to adapt their environments to help cope with memory loss. Michelle has created cards for patients to carry listing their address, so when they ride the Lakeview Village bus, they always remember where to get off. She also makes signs to hang on the back of doors, prompting patients to make sure they have their glasses and keys before they leave their homes.
While some memory loss is normal with aging, Michelle cautions that dementia is not. Thankfully, Michelle has a lot of tips and tricks to keep communication going, even as patients encounter new challenges.
“I worked with a woman who was very emotional about losing her independence,” Michelle said. “She had such a drive to be involved in social activities, but she would get embarrassed if she couldn’t remember a word and had started to withdrawal.”
Michelle told her to just describe the word she was searching for, instead of pausing while she tried to recall it. At her next appointment, the patient told Michelle that the new strategy was working wonderfully.
“She gave me a hug and said, ‘I’ll always remember you.’”
Innovations in Speech Pathology
Like most occupations today, Speech Pathology is getting a boost from mobile technology. There are smart phone apps that work as memory aids, and some that will even track your volume levels. This new technology is helping people to communicate longer, even in the face of neurological factors, which fascinate Michelle who is certified in LSVT Loud, a program that helps combat the effects of Parkinson ’s disease.
While technology and adaptive tips and tricks will help older adults communicate better, the motivation of the patient plays a critical role in the success of therapy.
“I like to find out their story, what motivates them and what (the patient’s) goal is, so that I can help them achieve that goal in some form,” Michelle said.
Michelle reports that work as a speech pathologist is never boring. She is constantly learning and is given a variety of challenges to tackle. While she initially thought she would work with children, perhaps in honor of her father’s therapist, Michelle says she is much more comfortable working with adults.
“(Adults) intrigue me more, and I connect better with adults,” Michelle said. “Working with adults felt more like home.”