(Rockville, MD) With cognitive impairment, swallowing problems, and speech and language difficulties among the conditions that patients with COVID-19 reportedly face as they recover from the virus, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) emphasizes the need for and value of treatment services [video] provided by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) at a critical point in the pandemic as cases spike nationwide.
Many of the problems that patients are experiencing are the result of extended time spent on ventilators. Post–intensive care syndrome (PICS) and intensive care unit (ICU) delirium—both characterized by symptoms that include cognitive impairment—are not exclusive to COVID-19 patients. However, the lack of stimulation and interaction with loved ones that patients would normally have at hospital bedsides is exacerbating patients’ recovery conditions.
Although data are limited, reports in media outlets such as The New York Times highlight issues that hospital staff are seeing as patients recover—issues for which SLPs can provide essential treatment. These issues include the following:
- Communication Challenges. A patient in acute care who is on a ventilator may have trouble speaking and may need help communicating their needs and wishes through alternative methods of communication, such as gesturing or using word or picture boards. Some individuals with COVID-19 have experienced a stroke, which can result in communication problems such as slurred speech (called dysarthria) and difficulty understanding or producing language (called aphasia).
- Swallowing Disorders. Swallowing problems may result from a variety of causes related to COVID-19. These can include damage to a person’s vocal cords that may occur during breathing tube placement or removal, fluid buildup in a person’s lungs, or as a side effect of other COVID-19 complications such as stroke—which can lead to weakness and/or incoordination of muscles in the mouth and throat.
- Cognitive Problems. Patients with COVID-19 who have spent time on a ventilator or who have experienced low oxygen to the brain can become confused and disoriented. Some individuals might experience long-term cognitive problems—including difficulties with attention, memory, problem solving, and reasoning skills.
For more information about the services that SLPs can provide to individuals with COVID-19, visit www.asha.org/public.
About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 211,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.