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Regaining important connections

Speech therapy, provided by Knute Nelson Home Care, can greatly improve one’s quality of life

Eighteen years ago, Dave Willard was an adult farm management instructor. He helped farmers with their business plans and marketing. He had quite a few clients and really enjoyed his job. He was an all-around active guy.

Then at 50 years old, he had a stroke.

It took him over a year in acute rehab before he returned home to his family.

Stacy Denny, Knute Nelson speech language pathologist, guides Dave Willard through a series of tests on a tablet at his home in Elbow Lake during a recent visit. Willard has made great strides in his communication since he started working with Knute Nelson’s speech therapy program. Contributed photo

Once at home, he lived independently with his late wife, Judy. Although he had weakness on his right side, “He was still able to get back to the activities he enjoyed: fishing, mowing the lawn, driving his side-by-side,” said his son, Dan.

There was just one hitch: He could only speak a few words.

To communicate, Dave used a whiteboard, showed his family what he needed, or his family had to guess. “We had a number of questions we could go through. ‘Diet Coke?’ ‘Ranger?’ (his truck),” said Dan.

“Right after his stroke, we tried so hard on the physical therapy,” said Dan. “We should probably have tried harder on speech.”

Dave moved to the Twin Cities after his wife died. He lived with his son and his family. Unfortunately, their home was not handicap accessible so couldn’t get around and do the things he wanted to do. After a time, he even lost some strength. So, Dan and his family decided to move back to Dave’s home in Elbow Lake — a home where he could be independent again.

Last fall, Dave’s life took another sharp turn. He broke his hip.

No one wishes for a broken hip, but this set back turned into an unexpected blessing. It led Dave to a positive effect that wouldn’t have happened any other way.

While he was recovering in rehab, he tried speech therapy again. He did well.

Janelle VanErp, Dave’s home care physical therapist, asked her colleague to do a speech evaluation. Since he’d done well at the rehab center, she wondered if speech therapy could help even after all these years.

“I wasn’t sure if we would see any improvement because it’s been so long since his stroke,” said Stacy Denny, Knute Nelson speech language pathologist.

“When I evaluated him, I realized he had pretty severe apraxia. I knew I could help him with that.” Dave started speech therapy in November.

The new diagnosis quickly lead to progress.

“In his speech therapy sessions, we work on helping to plan the sounds,” said Stacy. “Apraxia is all about motor planning. Dave knows what he wants to say, but he has trouble saying it.”

“He’ll grope for the correct sound,” she said. “We also work on modeling and shaping – getting the sounds and words in the correct spot.” Another component of this is increasing his speed so that his motor planning improves.

He’s come a long way. When he first started therapy, Stacy asked him to name objects in the room (without prompting). The goal of the exam is to name 20 things. “He couldn’t name any. The last time we did the exam he could name 18 or more.”

On Stacy’s suggestion, his family purchased an iPad and downloaded an apraxia app. “It doesn’t provide therapy,” she said, “but it provides sounds and words so he can practice between therapy sessions.”

Stacy Denny, Knute Nelson speech language pathologist, helps Dave Willard sound out certain sounds and words at a recent visit. Contributed photo

“He does his exercises every day, practices his speech every day,” said Dan. “He’s very driven, and he’s definitely gotten a lot better. He’s putting smaller sentences together and saying words I haven’t heard him say in a long time.”

“His therapy is intense,” said Stacy. “He’s OK with that.” (Dave now has speech therapy for 45 minutes, twice a week.)

It’s not just his speech that’s improving. Dave is back physically.

“He likes to plow snow and just did yesterday,” said Dan. “He takes Ranger rides. Mid-morning or afternoon, he drives all over the place. Everyone knows Dave’s Ranger.”

There’s work ahead, but the future is bright

“The hope is that he’s able to come up with more and more words spontaneously. And then supplementing as needed with the iPad to meet his wants and needs.”

Meanwhile, he’s able to interact with his young grandchildren (ages 6, 3 and 1) for the first time. “The other day one of his grandsons came up the stairs and Dave said, ‘Hi there,’” said Stacy. “We wouldn’t have seen that before. Another day he called another grandson by his name. He couldn’t do that before.”

Making yourself clear – the importance of speech for older adults

Some older adults whether through a stroke, aging or dementia, lose their ability to speak clearly. This causes trouble in a multitude of ways.

• Safety – Your loved one needs to be able to tell you if they need help, have pain, need medication or have another serious issue.

• Emotional health – If your loved one can’t express themselves or have their needs met, they can feel helpless. This can become a vicious cycle. The more helpless they feel, the more helpless they become.

• Social – If your loved one isn’t able to actively take part in conversations with family and friends, it can be a short journey to social isolation and even depression.

Is home care right for you or your loved one?

I s there someone that you know experiencing these challenges? If so, Knute Nelson Home Care is here to help. They serve 21 counties throughout West Central Minnesota and provide an array of services including speech therapy, skilled nursing and other therapy services. Not sure where to start? That’s ok. You can simply call the team at Knute Nelson to help get started.

For questions, visit or call (320) 763-6653 to connect with your local Knute Nelson Home Care team. They’re happy to help.

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