Speech pathology student inspired by personal circumstance

Published in the February 2017 issue

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Southern Cross University student Caroline Thomas knows first-hand how speech pathology treatment can assist adults who have experienced a stroke or other debilitating condition that can result in communication difficulties such as aphasia.

Caroline Thomas

Caroline Thomas

The Currumbin resident has used her personal circumstance of seeing her parents come to terms with life after her father’s stroke more than a year ago, to help others in similar situations.

Her father’s condition has also inspired Caroline’s Honours research project on ‘the experience of community aphasia (language impairment) groups from the perspective of the person with aphasia and their significant other’.

Caroline is heading into her fourth and final year of a Bachelor of Speech Pathology (Honours) and has worked passionately towards raising awareness among students, staff and local residents near the Southern Cross University Gold Coast campus in Bilinga, about the importance of getting someone to hospital as quickly as possible if they show signs of stroke, such as slurred speech, a droopy mouth or difficulty understanding what is said to them.

She is putting the call out for people in the community who have difficulty with communication to consider attending the SCU Health Clinic on campus, where students assess and treat adults with communication impairments as part of their clinical studies, under the guidance of professional speech pathologists in the role of clinical educators.

“We have plenty of children on our clinic waiting list, but we need more adults, anyone who has a problem with their voice or swallowing issues, even if they just want an initial consultation,” Caroline said.

“As part of our clinical placement we treat people who have gone through stroke, brain injury, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or anything that affects their speech. We would value the opportunity to assess and treat people with speech problems, stuttering, language and swallowing difficulties.”

Caroline, 40, moved from the Sydney region to marry in 2004 after a 10-year career in advertising and performing arts, and is still teaching dance classes around the Gold Coast. It was after the birth of her second son, and with the encouragement of her mother, she was inspired to study.

She is now in the second Speech Pathology cohort at the University.

“It’s very rewarding when you see improvements in patients as it reinforces what you’re doing and improves the person’s everyday interactions. For some people it’s about totally relearning to speak and others want to know how they can improve their husky voice,” she said.

Caroline said one of the highlights for her so far had been helping a patient with a brain injury go from using three words in a sentence up to six, in one session.

Southern Cross University Speech Pathology course coordinator Dr Bev Joffe said members of the public could contact the clinic by calling 07 5589 3252 to make an appointment.

“The benefit of accessing an assessment and treatment service at this clinic is that clients have the opportunity of being helped by students who are knowledgeable of the most up-to-date services and simultaneously also by highly skilled clinical educator qualified speech pathologists,” Dr Joffe said.

“This, in turn, has the potential to improve not only communication but also the quality of life for clients and families.”

The SCU Health Clinic is located on the ground floor, B block, Gold Coast campus, Southern Cross Drive, Bilinga, Queensland. Other services available to the public include osteopathy, podiatry, psychology, remedial massage, sports massage and exercise physiology.

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