When Professional Dynamics Become Personal Dealing with her mother’s progressive primary aphasia changes this SLP’s perspective as a clinician. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   October 01, 2016
When Professional Dynamics Become Personal
Author Notes
  • Amy LaFleur, MA, SLP-CCC, is a clinician with Genesis Healthcare at Fritz Reuter Altenheim in North Bergen, New Jersey. She also works for Learning Solutions LLC, a private bilingual speech and language practice in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. amymarie1434@gmail.com
    Amy LaFleur, MA, SLP-CCC, is a clinician with Genesis Healthcare at Fritz Reuter Altenheim in North Bergen, New Jersey. She also works for Learning Solutions LLC, a private bilingual speech and language practice in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. amymarie1434@gmail.com×
Article Information
Language Disorders / Aphasia / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   October 01, 2016
When Professional Dynamics Become Personal
The ASHA Leader, October 2016, Vol. 21, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.21102016.72
The ASHA Leader, October 2016, Vol. 21, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.21102016.72
“Mom, can I borrow your earrings?”
“Earrings … I’m sorry, remind me what those are?”
This exchange, along with dozens just like it, convinced me that my 55-year-old mom was showing signs that could no longer be written off as normal aging. After returning home from college, I became keenly aware of the changes in her cognitive function, language skills and personality.
In graduate school, while learning about primary progressive aphasia (PPA), I distinctly remember having one of those “aha” moments when I realized, “That’s what Mom has!” I convinced her to let me go with her to her physician, where I listed her frequent anomia, difficulty with auditory comprehension, and changes in higher-level cognitive skills such as logic and insight.
Now, four years later, my mother’s PPA-semantic dementia is catastrophic to my family. She’s had to stop working as a renal dietitian and struggles with most conversational exchanges. She receives speech-language treatment and she is involved in music classes, volunteer work and other programs in our area. Meanwhile, I am a speech-language pathologist working in a skilled nursing facility and treating patients with dementia every day. I am fortunate to have training and knowledge in the very deficits that affect my mom.
My personal experiences make me a more empathetic and committed resource for my patients and their caregivers. Nonetheless, I often struggle to balance my personal and professional life. As professionals, we want what is best for our patients and yet we often make judgments about caregivers without considering their grief. Recently, I found myself frustrated by a patient’s husband. He seemed unable to wrap his head around the severity of his wife’s dysphagia symptoms. The charge nurse called me over, saying, “Mr. X would like to speak with you again about the altered diet recommendation.” We rolled our eyes at each other, and I explained to Mr. X my rationale once again.
Later that day, I was struck by my own hypocrisy. I recalled an appointment with a prominent neurologist who answered my father’s questions condescendingly and used technical jargon when speaking to my mom. I fumed, “How can she expect Mom to understand that? I had to define the word ‘hat’ for her this morning!” Explaining aspiration precautions for the fifth time may have been mildly inconvenient for me, yet for Mr. X, it was crucial for his role as caregiver.
I encourage us all to place ourselves in the shoes of the children, parents and spouses of our patients. Rather than scold the husband who brings his wife a sandwich despite her dysphagia symptoms, perhaps we can suggest how he might care for her in a safer manner. Rather than complain when a family fails to visit, we should consider what obstacles may be preventing their presence. And we can find resources to help a caregiver unable to accept a life-altering diagnosis. Referrals, explanations and off-the-cuff advice from various professionals have carved the way for my family across financial planning, medical care, recreational programs and everything in between. Information that is routine to us as clinicians can be life-changing to those we treat and their families.
I’m an SLP and a young caregiver, and my experiences in these roles have helped me become better in both.
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October 2016
Volume 21, Issue 10