Senior Day Services Speech-Language Pathology Clinical Practicum off to a great start

WMU Senior Day Services has long been a place for WMU faculty and clinicians to bring their students to learn while providing a service for individuals in our community. Beginning this semester, speech language pathologist (SLP) Kathy Rigley-Rowell, along with three SLP graduate students and one undergraduate SLP student, initiated a clinical practicum experience at the center. This experience is intended to serve the dual purpose of providing a needed service to community members along with clinical education to students studying communication and swallowing disorders. 

Pictured (l to r) are Jackie DeWaal, Stacy Lecznar, Kathy Rigley-Rowell, Kellie Abraham and Jessica Meadows.

Rigley-Rowell and her students, Jackie DeWaal, Stacy Lecznar, Kellie Abraham and Jessica Meadows are focusing on developing communication supports for individuals with a variety of speech, language and cognitive-communication needs. Individuals with communication disorders can be supported through the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment provided by a speech language pathologist. The role of the speech language pathologist is also to advocate and educate others on behalf of those affected by communication disorders. By thoroughly understanding a person's communication abilities and needs, accommodations can be put in place that allow for increased success, safety and independence with communication. This can be as simple as using gestures, offering choices, writing and/or drawing.

They also work with participants who have or are at risk for having dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Dysphagia is common among aging adults, especially those with age related diseases such as dementia, traumatic brain injury or history of stroke. Individuals with dysphagia are at risk for dehydration, malnourishment, pneumonia and reduced quality of life. Students began by observing and screening participants in order to identify those with the greatest need. Participants are then observed during meal-time and students are continually looking at ways to make mealtime safer.  

The team is planning to provide an educational in-service to staff and volunteers on the importance of adhering to safety precautions and ways to safely modify diets and liquids for individuals with swallowing difficulties.


Suma Devanga, Ph.D.

Another WMU faculty, Suma Devanga (Ph.D., SLP-Clinical Fellow), has been visiting SDS to provide screening services for communicative abilities of individuals. The goal of this evaluation is to identify the need for a detailed assessment and treatment. Detailed assessment involves a comprehensive evaluation of speech (voice, fluency, articulation), language (phonology, vocabulary, grammar, reading, and writing), cognition (attention, memory, problem solving), and hearing functions. Treatment recommendations including speech-language therapy and/or audiological rehabilitation is being offered. Devanga is also working to develop a staff training program related to communication within SDS. The goal of this program is to train the SDS staff and employees on how to effectively communicate with individuals who have speech, language, cognitive, and/or hearing needs to facilitate successful conversations within SDS.