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New Ulm Medical Center

Speech therapist brings new treatments to New Ulm Medical Center

Ann Lewis quite literally gives her patients something to talk about.

A speech language pathologist, Lewis joined Liza Schwartz in providing speech services at New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) in the summer of 2012. She brings with her years of experience in the field, as well as new therapies for both children and adults.

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Speech language pathologist Ann Lewis works with Matt Dallmann using a therapy known as VitalStim, a noninvasive therapy that uses electrodes to stimulate and strengthen the muscles used to swallow.

“The ability to make a difference in people's lives and help them communicate and work more effectively at their jobs, at school or in social situations is really rewarding,” Lewis said. “And it's been fun working with patients and getting to know their families, too.”

Speech language pathologists — also commonly known as speech therapists — evaluate and treat speech disorders, swallowing difficulty, voice problems and language disorders, among other issues. Lewis works with patients across the lifespan, from those born with conditions that affect speech or swallowing to adult patients who've suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury to seniors struggling with dementia.

For example, some patients with difficulty swallowing are at higher risk for aspiration, or the entry of food or liquid into the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia and hospitalization. In turn, Lewis and her colleagues work with patients and their families to reduce the risk, such as modifying their diets or prescribing exercises to strengthen the swallowing muscles.

New therapies

With Lewis’ arrival at New Ulm, patients with swallowing problems now have access to another therapy known as VitalStim, a noninvasive therapy that uses electrodes to stimulate and strengthen the muscles used to swallow.

Lewis, who is certified in VitalStim therapy, first evaluates patients to make sure the treatment is a good fit. She said she’s used the therapy with positive results on infants and toddlers, and all the way up to seniors.

Typically, VitalStim patients participate in hour-long sessions three to five times per week for about a month, Lewis said. While the electrodes are attached to the neck, Lewis coaches her patients to practice swallowing. She also has them do exercises designed to strengthen the tongue and throat muscles.

Lewis noted that research has shown that VitalStim may result in patients making progress faster and swallowing better for longer periods of time. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the therapy as safe.

“It's not painful,” Lewis added. “It may be a little uncomfortable at first, but it’s never painful.”

Another therapy Lewis brings with her to NUMC is known as Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT), a type of speech therapy specifically developed for people living with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative disorder of the nervous system. Parkinson's disease often results in reduced loudness and hoarse voice or slurred speech, which can make it difficult for people with the disease to communicate and participate in conversation.

“The primary goal is to increase the voice loudness level to a normal one. We found that by doing so, other speech characteristics change too, like the voice becoming less hoarse or breathy,” said Lewis, who is currently the only therapist at NUMC certified in LSVT.

The treatment, which is individualized to a person’s needs, typically involves four sessions per week for four weeks, plus 25 minutes of daily homework. Lewis said it touches on the ability to communicate, beginning with words and progressing to phrases, sentences, and conversation.

“When a person is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, so much can feel out of control. But one of the great aspects of this treatment,” Lewis said, “is that this is one area where an individual can gain back control over the disease. We can help patients accomplish major life changes because of it.”

A physician or provider referral is needed for speech therapy services. To make an appointment with a speech language pathologist, call 507-217-5173.