Published: Oct. 11, 2022

CU Boulder’s Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic receives grant from the NextFifty Initiative to expand clinical and therapy services along the northern Front Range

Faculty from the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences have won a $143,750 grant to provide services to an often-overlooked population along Colorado’s northern Front Range.

The NextFifty Initiative grant, awarded on Aug. 1, will fund the CU Adult Clinical Initiative for one year as it seeks to assist adults over the age of 50 with neurogenic communication disorders—ailments caused by damage to the central or peripheral nervous system. The initiative will offer therapy services and educational opportunities to improve the quality of life for adults affected by these disorders and their caretakers. The program begins Oct. 15.

Neurogenic communication disorders hinder an individual’s communication ability through speech, hearing or language impairments. These disorders include a range of issues such as aphasia, apraxia, dysphagia and other motor speech impairments.

“We will treat the whole person,” said Jack Damico, a speech-language pathologist and one of the leading members of the initiative. “We want to give people with aphasia their voice back.”

Jack Damico

Jack Damico is one of the intiative's leading members.

The members of the Adult Clinical Initiative plan to accomplish this through outreach programs and coordination with other medical centers. In combining resources from the Transdisciplinary Center of Aging, the Rocky Mountain Stroke Center and the CU Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, they will be able to supply an array of services.

Services will include educational talks, screenings of neurogenic communication disorders, counseling at the Rocky Mountain Stroke Center, recovery plans, support systems, direct therapy services and group therapy work.  

The initiative will employ graduate students, helping instruct those students on how to work with older clients while increasing the program’s number of helping hands. Every client can be paired with a student, said Damico. He added that instructors can teach their students how to work with transdisciplinary services.

“The work here will reintegrate subjects back into society,” said Shelley Sheppeck, the clinic director of operations and another leading member of the initiative.

Damico handled the clinical research aspect of the grant, while Sheppeck oversaw financial and administrative side of things. The two said the effort has been collaborative.

Damico has 40 years of experience researching cognitive issues and speech-language pathology. Sheppeck has an extensive background with grant writing and managing clinical faculty as well as graduate students.

The CU Boulder speech-language program was ranked in the top 20 by the U.S. News and World Report. According to the initiative’s members, these qualities helped the CU Adult Clinical Initiative receive funding from the NextFifty Initiative, a Denver-based private foundation that funds initiatives dedicated to improving the lives of the older adults and their caregivers. NextFifty has granted resources to a select number of university-derived programs prior to this one.

The initiative does not seek to compete with hospital aid. Instead, it aims to offer an alternative for individuals who are not insured or who experience other troubles that prevent easy access to hospitals.

Damico, Sheppeck and their colleagues hope to make the initiative self-sustaining so that it continues to provide services to older adults with neurogenic communication disorders even after the NextFifty funding is depleted.

“This is a great opportunity to extend services to a population (that is) often overlooked,” says Sheppeck.