After 20 years of caring for families at Pueblo Community Health Center, Dr. Rona Knudsen embraces her role as InnovAge PACE’s Center Medical Director, helping vulnerable older adults in the community. <br />
PACE Fills the Gap: Hearing and Speech
April 06, 2022
A native of Chicago, Illinois, Elizabeth earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech-language pathology. Her InnovAge career started in 2019 and has her helping older adults with speech, language, and swallowing. These can develop following a stroke or brain injury. They can also be associated with other serious health issues such as Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), or dementia.
“Difficulty remembering things and communicating effectively can lead to depression, social isolation, cognitive decline, and poor safety awareness,” says Dr. Seema Siraj, medical director for InnovAge’s Inland Empire PACE center in California. Elizabeth adds “Not being able to communicate with others can really impact someone’s safety and independence.”
Elizabeth also supports older adults who are experiencing a loss in hearing. According to research, 30% of adults between 65 and 74 experience hearing loss, and nearly half of those over 75 have difficulty hearing.
Annual hearing tests, exams, and cognitive tests can help identify early on hearing loss and other related problems. “Loss of hearing can be caused by conditions like infections, injury, and tumors. Certain medications like antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs can also be a cause,” explains Dr. Siraj. “It’s important that whoever is doing your exams has a full understanding of your medical situation.”
Hearing, language, swallowing, and speech services offered in PACE can include:
- Hearing aids
- Cognitive testing and therapies related to memory, problem solving, and attention
- Speech therapy to help swallowing, speech, and cognition concerns
- Swallowing exercises
- Dietary planning
(this photo was taken pre-pandemic)
Based at InnovAge’s Denver center in Colorado, Elizabeth also works with seniors in Northern Colorado, Lakewood, Thornton, and Aurora. Therapists like Elizabeth play a key role in PACE, collaborating with older adults, their family caregivers, and other medical specialists. Together, they identify problems, manage recovery, and look for how to improve quality of life. She explains, “We get referrals in so many ways, from primary care providers and other clinicians, or from a therapist, social worker, or family member noticing changes.”
The older adults she works with at InnovAge are an ongoing source of inspiration. “They have so much experience,” she says. “I learn from them all the time, including how to approach healthcare decisions and getting good and bad news, especially during COVID. I’m so impressed by how positive they have been through all of this. Their resilience has been truly inspiring to me.”
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