Living with a Motor Speech Disorder

Being able to communicate clearly and easily is a skill most of us take for granted in our day-to-day life. For individuals living with a speech problem, simply expressing wants, needs, and opinions can be a great challenge. Meet Laura Wallen, a patient at the Clough Family Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies at Emerson Hospital. She is living with dysarthria due to a progressive neuromuscular diagnosis, but is finding help communicating through a speech-generating device.

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Set Yourself Up for Success: Rehab Appointments and Executive Functioning

Executive functioning skills include our ability to make goals, plan the steps needed to achieve those goals, and then execute the plan. Brain injuries, chemotherapy-related cognitive deficits, neurologic conditions such as stroke, and diagnoses such as autism spectrum disorder may impact executive functioning skills. Emerson Hospital’s team of speech language pathologists evaluate and help people manage their executive functioning skills to improve cognitive communication. Whether you are a current or new patron of ours, here are a few suggestions from our team to help you make the most out of your visits by boosting your executive functioning.

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Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness month, when communities around the world show support and increase understanding for the people and families living with autism spectrum disorder. One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.

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Take the Challenge: Pledge to Help Recognize the Signs of Stroke

Quickly recognizing and taking action when a person is having a stroke is vital to minimizing any permanent damage to their body. As health care clinicians, my coworkers and I strive to educate our patients and community members on the signs and symptoms of stroke. Yet I still hear stories from patients, and sometimes even medical providers, about situations where the symptoms of a stroke weren’t recognized right away.

Recently, a middle-aged patient told me: “I have had vertigo for several years now. I usually know when I am about to get it; the room starts to spin. My physical therapist has showed me a maneuver for dealing with the condition. When I woke up on one morning I felt dizzy — nothing like I have felt before. I had double vision and tingling around my left lip. I kept waiting for the room to spin but it never did. I called my primary care physician who told me to immediately go to the emergency room. At the ER, I had a CT scan, which came negative, so I was sent home.”

When these unusual symptoms came, this patient thought they were related in some way to the vertigo and did not connect them to a stroke. His story continues, "The next day my double vision was worse, I had severe nausea, and I couldn’t walk straight. I felt as if I was overly drunk. That was the day I fell." The patient was taken to the ER via ambulance and an MRI revealed a medullary stroke.

What to Look For

The FAST acronym (Face dropping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call) is usually used to identify if someone is having a stroke. Additional symptoms to look for are:

·         Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech

·         Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

·         Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

·         Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

·         Sudden severe headache with no known cause

The key word here is SUDDEN. Together we need to spread this awareness of educating as many individuals as we can of the early signs of stroke and the importance of seeking immediate medical care.

According to a national survey commissioned by the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center (1,009 respondents), a surprising 75 percent of Americans under the age of 45 do not know the signs and symptoms of stroke. Another frightening finding was 76 percent of those say they would likely wait out symptoms of weakness, numbness, or difficulty with vision. A common problem we encounter is many younger people dismiss telling someone about symptoms because they think that strokes only occur in the elderly.

When something is painful, treatment is sought out right away. Strokes usually come with no pain and therefore are easily ignored by most people. Among people who don’t get treatment right away after a stroke, about a quarter will die, about half will live with some form of significant handicap, and only about a quarter will live with a reasonable good outcome.

Knowledge allows us to make educated choices. Be informed, recognize the signs, do not be in denial, and seek help as necessary. During this year’s National Stroke Awareness Month, I challenge all health care providers to pledge to educate at least ten people of the warning signs of a stroke. Drop by drop we will fill the ocean

Naseem Chatiwala, PT, MS, DPT, NCS, (standing to right of the horse) is a clinical specialist in neurology and pediatrics at Emerson’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies. She helps patients overcome the challenges that result from strokes, vertigo, concussions and balance issues. 

Naseem Chatiwala, PT, MS, DPT, NCS, (standing to right of the horse) is a clinical specialist in neurology and pediatrics at Emerson’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies. She helps patients overcome the challenges that result from strokes, vertigo, concussions and balance issues. 

A Patient’s Journey Through a Concussion Diagnosis and Treatment

The majority of people who experience a concussion fully recover within three months, but up to 15-20 percent go on to experience prolonged concussion symptoms. Often, those people benefit from a multidisciplinary rehabilitation approach to recovery that includes physical, occupational and speech therapy.

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Parenting the Bilingual Child

Many parents whose native language is not English or who speak multiple languages at home report receiving conflicting and sometimes misleading information about bilingualism and best practices for supporting language. In the United States we are becoming an increasingly multilingual country, so it is essential that we are informed about how to support children from bilingual homes as well as children whose home language is not the majority one.

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Emerson therapists use innovative equipment to help multiple sclerosis patients exercise

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include muscle weakness, loss of motor function, and fatigue, thus making it difficult for people with MS to exercise or participate in physical therapy. But a promising case study researched by a few of our physical therapists has helped some MS patients improve their exercise tolerance through the use of a low-impact, high-intensity interval training tool called Vasper. 

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Creative Ways to Get Your Kids to “Eat Their Colors”

Between the ages of 6 months and 3 years parents navigate what may feel like an endless obstacle course to promote healthy eating habits and mealtime routines. We all know the benefits to eating those colorful “superfoods” packed with all the minerals and nutrients to fuel our bodies and brains. Here are some fun ways to introduce these foods at home in a meaningful way.

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How to Be Prepared for a Successful Running Race

Whether you’re racing the Emerson Hospital 5k Run~Walk for Cancer this weekend or a marathon later this summer, here are some tips to ensure you toe the start line primed for peak performance. These tips are provided by Crystal Fontas, DPT, chief physical therapist of facility practices at Emerson Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies. In addition to treating many runners and helping them prepare for their events, Crystal has completed multiple half marathons and five marathons, including the 2016 Boston Marathon.

Join us for our annual 5k Run~Walk for Cancer. Visit  for info.

Join us for our annual 5k Run~Walk for Cancer. Visit for info.

  • Be sure you are running in a shoe that suits your individual foot biomechanics, switch out your running shoes every 300-400 miles during your training. Please note, however, it is not recommended you start a race with a new pair of shoes.
  • Stick to your pre-race nutrition and fuel plan that has been working for you throughout your training – race day is not the time to try anything new.
  • Stay off your feet as much as you can in the days just prior to the race to conserve energy.
  • Ensure adequate sleep at least two nights prior to the race. 
  • Begin your hydration and carb-loading plan several days out and not simply a day or two before the event to ensure adequate reserves for race day.
  • Mentally prepare yourself for challenging features of the race by studying the course map, keeping an eye on the weather, and reading reviews and reports of the race. The fewer surprises on race day, the better.
  • Know when your exact start time is, how long you’ll need to get to the starting line, and what the weather will be at that hour of the day. Consider wearing layers on race day if the temperature will fluctuate a great deal between when you arrive and when you begin the race.
  • Perform a dynamic warm-up prior to running and static stretches following your run. Even when you’ve crossed the finish line, take care of your legs and perform some stretching!
  • If you experience any sort of dizziness, blurred vision, or you stop sweating when you are on the course, remember that these are signs of dehydration and you should seek medical attention right away.
  • After the race hydrate, hydrate, hydrate to flush out lactic acid. Good hydration should continue the rest of the day and into the next few days.
  • If you experience something other than generalized muscle soreness and it persists longer than five to seven days after your race, consider contacting a local physical therapist.
  • Try to relax and have fun! Enjoy the scenery, the positive energy of fellow runners and the crowd support!

If you are interested in an individualized running assessment performed by a trained rehabilitation staff member, please call Emerson's Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies in Westford at (978) 589-6850 or in Concord at (978) 287-8200.

Active Longevity

Whatever your favorite physical activity is, the thought of doing it long into your later years is probably a welcome one. But regardless of your current fitness level, age will work against you. In her latest blog post, Terrie Enis, Emerson's director of our Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies, offers some advice on laying the groundwork for active longevity.

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Life Transitions an Important Time to Assess Driving Skills

As the holidays bring us together with family and friends, we have the opportunity to identify some changes brought on by age. These common life changes also represent a chance to take stock of potentially declining abilities. As an occupational therapist and a driver rehabilitation specialist, I often notice the challenges created for older drivers.

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