Westmead speech pathologist raising awareness and helping to improve quality of life of patients

Some 1.2 million Australians have a communication disability and Speech Pathology Week seeks to promote the profession and the work done by speech pathologists.

In 2022, Speech Pathology Week runs from 21 to 27 August, and Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) senior speech pathologist – stroke, geriatrics and rehabilitation, Annelise Green, would like to raise awareness for communication and swallowing disorders, and the impact that these have on people’s lives.

“Communication and swallowing are vital parts of all of our lives that we often take for granted,” said Annelise.

Think about what it would be like if you couldn’t get your message across or if you weren’t able to eat or drink.”

Annelise knew from a young age that speech pathology was the occupation for her. With an interest in anatomy, physiology, teaching and working with others, she “was sold” on speech pathology the minute her occupational therapist mother suggested it.

Annelise’s grandfather also influenced her career choice, as she “wanted to help stroke survivors like him”.

“I work primarily with people with neurological impairments post-stoke and also geriatric patients who may be very unwell and weak – all of which can affect communication and swallow function,” explained Annelise.

Helping people to improve and regain these skills and functions so they can live a more normal and rewarding life is her favourite part of the job.

“I have helped rehabilitate patients who were not safe for any oral intake to be able to have their favourite foods and drinks again,” said Annelise.

“I have also helped patients improve their speech and language so they can return to work and participate in activities meaningful to them such as giving a toast at their daughter’s wedding or speaking over video chat to relatives overseas.”

Throughout the day Annelise works with doctors, nurses and allied health professionals including occupational therapy, dietetics, physiotherapy and social work to discuss patient care and work as a multidisciplinary team to achieve optimal outcomes for patients.

“I think all allied health professionals find it satisfying and rewarding to make a difference and ultimately help improve someone’s quality of life,” she said.

One patient Annelise has recently been working with is stroke survivor Mr Tuan Anh Pham.

“Mr Pham is bilingual – he speaks both English and Vietnamese, however both languages have unfortunately been affected by his stroke,” explained Annelise.

“His language is improving, and he is very motivated to continue speech therapy, but currently uses a ‘total communication’ approach to communicate which includes speaking, writing, gesturing and speech pathologist support.

“Every day is better but hard,” explained Mr Pham.

We don’t think when we talk, but now talking is different – before easy now different; words very hard for me.”

Mr Pham said the speech pathology staff at Westmead have “help me make my life better, more like before – practising words, talking together, working hard.”

Annelise would like people to keep in mind that “the person in front of you at the coffee shop who takes a long time to order may have a language disorder and struggle to get the right words out, or the person who asks you to repeat yourself may have trouble comprehending what is said to them”.

This Speech Pathology Week, Annelise would also like people to be aware that changes to speech or swallowing function can indicate that something might be wrong.

“If you or your friends and family notice any communication or swallowing changes, or if you have a pre-existing condition that you would like speech pathology support for, you can speak to your GP or you can visit the Speech Pathology Australia website and use the ‘Find a Speech Pathologist” function at www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au.