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Speech & Hearing

Where Communication is Key.

Holyoke Medical Center’s Speech & Hearing Department is committed to ensuring our adult patients remain engaged, active, happy, and healthy through better speech & hearing.

Who should see a Speech Language Pathologist at Holyoke Medical Center?

As we age, sometimes things happen that impact our ability to communicate or swallow. Be it a traumatic event like a stroke or head injury; an acquired problem due to diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis; Cancer; vocal abuse; or severe or long term illnesses, a person who was once able to communicate effectively or swallow without coughing, can develop problems in these areas.

Speech Language Pathologists work with people who have difficulty speaking, listening, reading, writing, thinking and swallowing after these life-changing events to improve communication, restore skills and/or develop compensations strategies, and work with families and caregivers about the challenges the patient faces and what they can do to help. Adults who work with Speech Language Pathologists at Holyoke Medical Center do so to improve their health, independence and quality of life.

Speech Language Pathologists at Holyoke Medical Center can assist in differentiating between normal aging and disordered communication or swallowing function. Speech Language Pathologists provide vital services to those individuals who do have communication, cognitive, or swallowing impairments following illness, trauma, or disease. Speech Language Pathologists at Holyoke Medical Center also have a role in preventing communication and swallowing disorders by promoting a healthy lifestyle and educating consumers about how to prevent stroke and other disorders that may lead to impairment.


Stuttering is when you repeat a particular syllable, sound, or word involuntarily, or when you have involuntary pauses that you cannot produce a sound. Stuttering in adulthood is not uncommon, and usually has been present since childhood. Even after an individual has not experienced any stuttering for some time, it is possible that a life event could impact one’s ability to remain fluent and stuttering returns. It also may occur as a result of a head injury or neurological event. Stuttering can have a significant negative impact on a person’s life as they may withdraw from social situations and reduce sharing information verbally at work.

Language: Difficulty Speaking, Listening, Reading & Writing Following a Stroke or Brain Injury

Is it harder than it used to be to produce the words you want to say? Is it harder to come up with the words you want to use? Do you have difficulty understanding unfamiliar people? Do you notice a recent change in your ability to read or how to use something like a phone?

These are skills we use in everyday living. The Speech Language Pathologists at HMC can help assess how production is being impacted, identify weakness as well as strengths, and work with the patient and family on developing a plan for treatment and improving communication.

Aphasia is a communication disorder that results from damage to the parts of the brain that contain language. It is often seen after a person has suffered a stroke. Aphasia may causes difficulties in speaking, listening, reading, and writing, but does not affect intelligence. Individuals with aphasia may also have other problems, such as dysarthria (slurred speech), apraxia (can’t make muscles work to form speech), swallowing problems, or cognitive impairments which can also be worked on with a Speech Language Pathologist.

Aphasia Support Group: Life changes suddenly after a stroke, illness, or neurological injury. Suddenly, individuals often have difficulty speaking, listening, reading or writing. As a result, individuals and their caregivers are faced with a new reality of not being able to communicate effectively during a critical time of care and need for adaptation. As part of the Holyoke Medical Center’s commitment to excellence in Stroke Care, the Speech & Hearing Center invites you to attend our weekly Stroke Support Group. Our group is designed to provide individuals with acquired communication difficulties such as aphasia, and their loved ones, a safe space to meet others experiencing similar challenges. A self-lead social half-hour starts the group. A Speech-Language Pathologist joins the group for the next hour of the meeting to facilitate discussion and education about recovering and adapting to the new normal. Group exercises are facilitated, helping to practice the strategies recently discussed. Recovering from Stoke and other neurological insults is a life long journey that requires patience, resilience and lots of practice. You don’t have to go through it alone.

Holyoke Medical Center (HMC) has received four prestigious national and state awards for excellence in and quality of stroke care in Massachusetts, including the American Stroke Association Get with the Guidelines® Stroke Gold Plus award for the eighth consecutive year.

Recognition for HMC’s stroke program included:

  • American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The
  • Guidelines®-Stroke Gold Plus Achievement Award with Target: StrokeSM Honor Roll Elite Plus
  • Defect-free Care Award from the Paul Coverdell National Acute Stroke Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH
  • Modified Rankin Scale greater than or equal to 85% Award from the Paul
  • Coverdell National Acute Stroke Program at the Massachusetts DPH
  • Dysphagia Screening greater than or equal to 90% Award from the Paul
  • Coverdell National Acute Stroke Program at the Massachusetts DPH

Voice Disorders

We have all experienced problems with our voices – times when the voice is hoarse or when sound will not come out at all! Colds, allergies, bronchitis, exposure to irritants such as ammonia, or cheering for your favorite sports team can result in a loss of voice. If you or someone you know has a more chronic condition, they may benefit from a voice evaluation and therapy.

Head & Neck/Oral cancer

Meeting with a Speech Language Pathologist before treatment begins helps patients and their significant others understand some of the potential side effects of the cancer treatment and what rehabilitation is available to them. This is a critical step in preparing someone for anticipated changes in speech and or diet, and promote continued progress. After the treatment has begun, working with a Speech Language Pathologists at Holyoke Medical Center is helpful in maintaining or regaining speech as well as understanding the importance of mouth care.

Choking When Eating or Drinking

If you or someone you know reports they are having difficulty swallowing, maybe choking when eating or drinking, or difficulty taking their pills, they could benefit from a swallowing evaluation to make sure you are not at risk for developing pneumonia from inhaling food or drink accidently

There are two types of swallowing evaluations that can be performed to find out if there is need for therapy or a change in types of foods you are eating. The first is a Clinical Swallow Evaluation. This is done in the Speech & Hearing department. It includes a thorough history –taking and evaluation of the strength, movement, and coordination of muscles of the mouth and throat used in chewing and swallowing. The Speech Language Pathologist will evaluate this while you are eating or drinking something.

The second type of evaluation is Videofluroscopic Swallow Study or “Modified Barium Swallow Study.” This evaluation is done by a Speech Language Pathologist in the Radiology department along with a Radiologist, using a special movie-type x-ray to observe the act of the swallow.

Regardless of which evaluation is appropriate, our Speech Language Pathologists can help you determine the best course of treatment for an individual, preventing pneumonia and promoting health and wellness.

Treatment for swallowing problems involves therapy to improve your muscle strength and coordination of your swallow pattern and education and training in strategies to avoid chocking and coughing.

Dementia/Cognitive Skills and Memory

Do you or a family member have a recent decline in thinking or memory skills? A Speech Language Pathologist can help identify what part of language is being impacted, what abilities are still intact, and what areas are the strongest. This information is critical in developing a care plan that the individual, significant others, and caregivers can follow to help minimize confusion and frustration. Working with an SLP in this manner can help maximize functional independence and safety for as long as possible.

Most caregivers lack understanding of how the disease will impact the ability of an individual with Alzheimer’s to communicate. An SLP can help lead that caregiver through the stages and help them adapt how they communicate to the individual for increased success and reduced frustration.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and therefore periodic reevaluation and readjustment of a care plan is critical for meeting the changing needs of the individual and caregiver.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s can impact communication. The loudness of one’s speech decreases making individuals difficult to hear. Facial muscles weaken resulting in expressions that can be misinterpreted as disinterested or angry. All can lead to social isolation and withdrawal from favorite activities, diminishing quality of life and independence.

LSVT LOUD is a globally standardized treatment delivered by LSVT certified Speech Language Pathologists who are certified in this program.

LSVT LOUD is proven to be an effective speech treatment for individuals with Parkinson Disease (PD) and other neurological conditions. Published research supports improvements in vocal loudness, intonation, and voice quality for individuals with PD who received LSVT LOUD, with improvements maintained up to two years after treatment.

Holyoke Medical Center

If you know someone that can benefit from our services, please let them know about us. There are resources available to help individuals and their families/caregivers cope with changes in communication due to injury, illness, or disease. Having the knowledge gives you back some control over a process that has happened to you. Having a plan to improve or maintain quality of life is empowering.

Who should have their hearing tested?

Routine hearing testing from the age of 55 years and older is a critical piece of your healthcare. Hearing loss is gradual and if you can’t hear as well as you used to, you often don’t realize what you are missing until it has progressed significantly. How do you get the biggest impact on your health and wellbeing? Knowing what your hearing is like, how it may impact your communication, your involvement in the activities you love, employment, and the ability to age in place, allows you to consider the options available for treatment early for the best long term outcomes.

Audiologists and Hearing Instrument Specialists are key members of your health care team. When you see an HMC team member, you can be confident that they are familiar with current practices, research and technologies. Our staff is equipped with the knowledge of how the ear and brain work together for you to hear and understand, how hearing loss impacts your mood and energy level, the technology available to assist you, and how to improve your hearing. Through a thorough history, individualized test selection, and individualized management strategies, we help provide knowledge and access to sound that supports healthy brain activity, prevents falls, and reduces the risk of depression as we age.

Ringing in Your Ears

Ringing in your ears, or Tinnitus, happens to most people at some point in their life. It can be experienced as a brief buzzing, whining or screeching noise in the head or ears or it can be a constant presence. Tinnitus is often a sign that some hearing loss may be present. Some people who have persistent tinnitus are helped by competing soft sounds such as a fan or nature sounds. Others see a decrease in ringing with hearing aid use. For about 10% of the population, ringing disrupts their lives and they need greater support. HMC’s Hearing Department can provide a wide range of services to assess your hearing, offer strategies on how to manage tinnitus, and if necessary, conduct a comprehensive assessment and provide treatment options to help improve the quality of life impacted by persistent and annoying tinnitus.

Risk of Falling

Untreated hearing loss has been linked in multiple studies to a significant increase in risk of falls. One theory on this is that when you have hearing loss, you are less aware of your environment, making tripping and falling more likely. It also is thought that because you can’t hear as well, your brain is working hard on the increased demand of listening and understanding leaving fewer resources for other activities. Gait and balance are very demanding on one’s brain and “cognitive load.” The more we demand of our brain, the fewer resources are left for other things.

Even a mild degree of hearing loss triples the risk of accidental falls, with risk increasing by 140% for every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss. Fall risk reduces independence and negatively impacts an individual’s ability to age in place. Falls are the leading cause of accidental death in adults over the age of 65. By knowing about your hearing and seeking treatment, you could be reducing your risk of falling.


Communicating when you have a hearing loss takes up lot of brain-power. It’s a bit like a computer that runs more slowly when there is a large program running in the background. When close concentration is needed to follow a conversation, a person with hearing loss has less brain power for other things like memory and maintaining balance.

Do you find you are more tired after going out to a noisy restaurant or a small gathering than you used to be? This may be due to hearing loss and the need to really concentrate on what is being said. When we mis-hear things, we try to make sense of what we think we heard and use our memory and knowledge of events around us to fill in the blanks. That takes work and concentration.

Studies have shown that early diagnosis of hearing loss and early intervention for the hearing loss (hearing aids) slows the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as compared to those who have hearing loss and do not use hearing aids.


Did you know Diabetes affects hearing? As blood sugars rise, there is a reaction in the ears similar to the nerve damage you feel in your fingertips and toes. This reaction leads to hearing loss. As an organ that is at the end of the line of blood flow and has extremely small capillaries, the thickened blood of diabetics does not efficiently serve the ear, starving it of the oxygenated blood it needs. The sensitive hair cells of the ear are damaged or destroyed resulting in hearing loss and increased difficulty understanding what people are saying. If you have diabetes, it is important for you to monitor your hearing as well as your blood sugar.

Heart Health

Studies have shown that a healthy cardiovascular system—a person’s heart, arteries, and veins—has a positive effect on hearing. On the other hand, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss. The inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it is possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body! If you have cardiovascular disease it is important to monitor your hearing as well as your heart, diet, and exercise.

Medications and Hearing Loss

Certain medications can damage the ear, resulting in hearing loss, ringing in the ear, or balance disorders. These drugs are considered ototoxic. There are more than 200 known ototoxic medications (prescription and over-the-counter) on the market today. These include medicines used to treat serious infections, cancer, and heart disease.

Hearing and balance problems caused by these drugs can sometimes be reversed when the drug therapy is discontinued. Sometimes, however, the damage is permanent.

If you are taking one of these medications, you should monitor your hearing and balance systems before and during treatment. Get a baseline record of your hearing before you start. During the course of your treatment, you should have periodic hearing tests as part of the monitoring process. This will help you identify and report any hearing changes, ringing in the ears, or balance problems you may notice.

Hearing Aids & Assistive Listening Devices

Most people wait 7 – 10 years after first noticing a hearing loss before doing something about it. As you now know from reading this folder, treating hearing loss early is critical to maintaining a healthy, active, and independent lifestyle.

Holyoke Medical Center

Call Holyoke Medical Center’s Speech & Hearing Department for an appointment to learn about your hearing and what hearing aids can do for your overall wellbeing – don’t wait for a decline in your quality of life to do something about it. We are here for you!

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Speech & Hearing

Contact the Speech Hearing Center:

30 Hospital Dr
Holyoke, MA 01040