Speech language pathologist can help change lives for many seniors

Speech language pathologist Chris Harkness visits with Victorian Heights Assisted Living tenant Bev Talerico.

CRYSTAL FALLS — Many people aren’t really familiar with what a speech language pathologist does. To put it simply, at the Iron County Medical Care Facility in Crystal Falls, SLP, Christine “Chris” Harkness, changes lives.

In her nine months working at the facility, Harkness has been overwhelmed by the evolution in numerous residents and countless families.

In her 35 years of working as a SLP, she has worked with many populations, but her work in just the short time she’s been at the Iron County Medical Care Facility has had some especially touching moments.

“Most people think a speech language pathologist’s role is solely to work with communication issues and swallowing difficulty, however in this setting, I am able to touch on so much more,” said Harkness. “One very important function of my job is working with memory.

Harkness is able to conduct assessments to give a baseline of memory function and functional changes checklist that looks at eight different areas so that family members are able to look and see how their loved ones have changed.

“I have recently finished working with two individuals who have really moved me,” she said.

One individual was having day to day memory difficulty that was quite worrisome to his wife and children. After several sessions, this gentleman could not only recall each of his children’s names, but specific facts about each of them.

“Speaking to his family in regard to his progress, I could see and most importantly feel their absolute awe in their father and his progress,” Harkness says. “What a touching moment for them to have more of their dad back.”

Another special moment for her came with an individual who had always been a famous joke teller. He however, had lost his confidence and ability to reach his recall memory, so he stopped telling jokes for fear he may forget them. Several sessions into working together, she asked him to tell her a joke. He hesitated and said he couldn’t tell jokes anymore. With some encouraging, he began.

“The pride that enveloped his face as he got to the punch line absolutely overwhelmed me,” said Harkness.

“To many people, ‘small’ things like telling a joke are no big deal. However, to an individual who is struggling with recollection issues, telling a joke is a major milestone in memory,” she adds.

The Iron County Medical Care Facility is grateful and happy to offer consistent in-patient services along with offering outpatient services with the addition of a regular, on staff, SLP.

“With already stellar occupational and physical therapy teams, the addition of Chris and the wealth of knowledge and services she can offer really places the Skyway Rehab Department in the upper echelon of treatment and rehabilitation offerings,” said Lindsey Anderson, VHAL spokesperson.