The ability to communicate connects us to the world, helps us build relationships, and allows us to express ourselves. It can have a profound effect on our physical and mental health. Problems with speech and language can jeopardize our wellness and independence, especially as we age. Seniors depend on their communication skills and if they start to deteriorate, it’s important to discuss any changes or loss of ability with a physician.

Many seniors experience a loss in speech due to age or illness. As we get older, the larynx muscles and vocal cords can become less elastic, causing weakness, hoarseness, and changes in pitch. Speech issues can accompany a decline in vision and hearing, but may also be caused by other conditions such as stroke, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s Disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).  Other conditions, including oral cancer, Huntington’s Disease, or brain damage can also contribute to a loss of communication functions.

Symptoms of Speech-Language Disorders

How do you know if you or a loved one should visit a physician regarding changes in speech? Persistent issues can include a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Hoarseness
  • Stuttering or repeating of sounds
  • Hesitation and frustration while speaking
  • Elongating words
  • Moving head or mouth awkwardly when speaking
  • Distortion of sounds
  • Trouble articulating
  • Difficulty swallowing

Some language impairment can be temporary and may improve with the help of physicians and speech-language pathologists. Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) helps pay for medically necessary outpatient speech-language pathology services. You would pay 20% of the Medicare approved amount as long as your medical provider accepts assignment. The Part B deductible applies.

Once your physician has diagnosed the cause of the speech issues and any underlying disease, you may be referred to a speech-language pathologist, a clinician with expertise to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat patients with speech, language, and communication disorders. Speech therapy will differ based on the underlying cause of the language disorder. Therapy may include group support, muscle retraining, singing, and visual speech perception. In the case of severe and complex speech impairment, a physician may order a speech generating device.

Speech Generating Devices

Speech generating devices are robust language systems that provide alternative methods to effective and efficient communication. Speech is generated using digitized output using pre-recorded messages, synthesized speech, or software that allows a computer or electronic device to function as a speech generating device. Medicare recognizes speech generating devices as durable medical equipment (DME) and are covered by Medicare Part B when they meet specific criteria. The speech generating device must provide an individual with the ability to meet their “functional, speaking needs,” and be primarily used for the purposes of generating speech in the home. As long as your supplier accepts assignment and is participating in Medicare, you will pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for the rental or purchase of the speech generating device. The Part B deductible applies.

 Many people with Original Medicare choose to purchase a Medigap policy to help supplement their Part A and Part B insurance and help pay some of their out-of-pocket costs. If you have a Medigap, or Medicare Supplement, policy, it may help cover deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments.

If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, you will have at least the same coverage as Original Medicare, but many MA plans offer additional benefits, including prescription drug coverage, vision and dental care, and a yearly out-of-pocket maximum.

Related articles:

What is Medicare Parts A & B

What is Medigap?