The Importance of Maintaining Functional Communication Skills Later in Life

The Importance of Maintaining Functional Communication Skills Later in Life

What is Functional Communication?

Functional communication is a term that refers to the most basic and fundamental communication skills. This type of communication is used to express one’s basic wants and needs, for example, “I want that”, “I am hurt”, or “I need to use the bathroom”. While these are not complex thoughts or feelings, the ability to communicate essential messages is highly important for all individuals, regardless of their age. 

In the case of most children, functional communication skills typically emerge during the first year of life. This includes the use of gestures (pointing to a desired object, for instance) and expands as the child grows and develops into the use of words and eventually full sentences. For individuals with certain speech and/or language delays or other developmental conditions (such as autism spectrum disorder) functional communication skills can be affected. For older adults, maintaining functional communication is of paramount importance in order to ensure success in various aspects of life and maintain a high quality of life. For many people, developing and effectively using functional communication can be an ongoing process. 

Speech therapy is one of the most important resources when it comes to achieving and maintaining effective functional communication skills for children and adults. Don’t wait to get started with Great Speech, getting started is as simple as scheduling your free introductory call today! 

Symptoms of Difficulties with Functional Communication

Functional communication is the ability to clearly communicate one’s own needs and wants. This can also include asking for help to ensure that their needs are met. Some of the signs that someone may be struggling with their functional communication skills are:

  • Difficulty Asking for Help or Struggling with Self-Advocacy
  • Fidgeting or Difficulty Settling 
  • Emotional Outbursts 
  • Yelling Demands (instead of making a request)
  • Inappropriate Behavior Caused by Frustration

This type of communication is practical and serves an essential function in daily life. An individual with an extensive vocabulary can still struggle with functional communication. Being able to tell others your wants and needs is a skill that supports the development of other skills such as emotional regulation, coping skills, and a variety of other aspects of daily living. 

Why is Functional Communication Important?

Functional communication is at the heart of all speech and language purposes. Being able to communicate our physical and emotional needs, as well as our fears, hopes, desires, and dreams is a vibrant and valuable aspect of communication, and quality of life often depends heavily on these abilities.

If we are unable to communicate our needs, then we are also unable to receive the necessary support and care. When it comes to caring for older adults who struggle to communicate, the absence of functional communication skills can have severe and significant effects on the individual’s self-esteem, health and wellness, and general quality of life. 

Functional communication skills are essential for everyone, regardless of age or stage of life. Don’t wait for skills to deteriorate, get started with speech therapy by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

How Does Advancing Age Affect Functional Communication?

Functional communication skills can be affected by a wide variety of medical conditions that can appear with advancing age. Older adults who live with such conditions as hearing loss, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, aphasia (resulting from a stroke or brain injury) Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia can have difficulty with functional communication. 

As we age, we become more susceptible to developing medical conditions that affect the function of the brain. When the areas of the brain that are necessary for speech and language production are affected, so too are the related communication skills. 

Even without the presence of an underlying medical condition, advancing age alone can have significant effects on an individual’s functional communication skills. Impaired hearing, memory loss as well as slower brain function, are all normal aspects of aging. 

Some of the following aspects and concepts are commonly affected by advancing age:

  • Cognitive Skills (Memory, Attention, Perception, Problem-Solving, and Executive Functions
  • Spatial Cognition
  • Loss of Language
  • Decreased Ability to Recognize Familiar People
  • Dual Sensory Loss (Hearing and Vision)

Speech Therapy for Functional Communication Skills

Speech therapy for improving and/or maintaining functional communication skills in older adults will always begin with a thorough evaluation of the individual. The speech therapist will work to identify the major areas of difficulty, as well as establish whether there is an underlying medical condition or communication disorder that may be contributing to the communication challenges. 

In the case of an older individual with a degenerative neurological disease (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease), the speech therapist will work collaboratively with other healthcare providers to establish an effective treatment plan. 

The goal of speech therapy for functional communication in older adults is to maintain a sense of independence and confidence for as long as possible. If verbal communication isn’t possible, the speech therapist will help the individual to explore alternative communication methods so that they can continue to express their wants and needs. Speech therapy can also help to equip caregivers and loved ones with techniques and exercises that can help them communicate with the individual and continue to provide adequate care. 

Maintaining functional communication skills in older adults is essential to ensure that their needs are being met and that they are receiving appropriate care. When an individual is unable to communicate their physical sensations, this can result in an unsafe situation. Speech therapy can help to ensure that the individual is still able to communicate as necessary, as well as maintain a higher quality of life and level of enjoyment. In the case of degenerative neurological conditions, seeking the support of a speech and language pathologist as soon as possible offers the best potential outcome. Speech therapy can often slow the progression of the disease and help the individual retain their communication skills for as long as possible. Don’t delay getting help for yourself or a loved one. Get started by scheduling your free introductory call today!