Updated: Apr 21, 2020
At the time of writing this (March 25, 2020), there have been 54,454 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and 737 resultant deaths. My heart is aching for everyone right now.
To say that times are difficult would be an understatement. People around the globe are rushing to navigate the convoluted ins and outs of this novel virus. We are all attempting to manage our physical, mental, and emotional health while approaching each day with uncertainty.
Unfortunately, other diseases like stroke, cancer, and heart attack don't care about COVID-19. Stroke survivors and other critically ill members of our society shouldn't have to see this time as the proverbial "end of the road."
At a time where hospital beds and ventilators need to remain available, we cannot suddenly drop all ancillary services (e.g. speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc.)
These services are meant to help others maintain good health and reduce the risk of hospitalization related to other diseases, illnesses and injuries.
If you were receiving or were planning on participating with speech therapy, there are still options for receiving these services . In a time of technological advances and impressive digital resources, we can offer you therapy through another modality: telemedicine.
Some people may wonder why speech therapy would be considered "critical services" during a time of global pandemic.
Here is a short list of diagnoses to consider and reasons why it's important to seek out or continue your speech therapy services if you are in need:
Aphasia is the impaired ability to express or understand language. This means that it could be difficult to get the right words out, or maybe it's difficult to understand what others are saying. Individuals with aphasia are at a higher risk of social isolation and depression.
Especially at a time when we are all being asked to remain at home and practice social distancing, it's critical to be able to understand what's going on around us and promote other modalities of communication. Speech therapy can help individuals with aphasia understand current events and improve ways to communicate with loved ones.
Dysarthria is the disruption in speech sounds often characterized by slurred or slow speech. This can commonly occur after stroke, brain injury, tumor, or other conditions that result in weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles and tongue.
Many people might struggle to understand someone with dysarthria. Speech therapists can continue to help others be understood while we are all relying on cell phones and video chats to be heard.
Dysphagia is the impaired ability to swallow. Someone with dysphagia might find it difficult to drink liquids without coughing, chew solids, and swallow solids without feeling like they might choke. Dysphagia can also increase the risk of malnutrition, dehydration, pneumonia, or even death.
It is absolutely critical that individuals with dysphagia continue to receive their therapy to either maintain or improve their swallow function while reducing the risk of being hospitalized for any of the above-mentioned risks.
Although teletherapy can impose some limitations on the delivery of care, there is research that shows the benefit of telehealth with the dysphagia population. If you're interested in seeing the research, you can find links to several articles at the bottom of this page.
If you have dysphagia, have already participated in a recent instrumental swallow exam (e.g. Modified Barium Swallow Study or "swallow x-ray,"; Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing or FEES (a scope with a camera was placed down your nose while you ate and drank various foods/liquids with dye)) and you were planning on seeing a speech therapist, please do not hesitate to reach out to your physician and your speech therapist.
Modified Barium Swallow Study (MBSS)
Image credit: SA Swallowing Services, PLLC
Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES)
I currently offer teletherapy through a HIPAA compliant video chat platform. During this time of need, I am happy to work with you and your therapist to come up with a plan of care that is right for you.
For anyone with dysphagia, it is recommended that you have an instrumental swallow study completed prior to starting therapy. Just as a physician should not treat an injured part of the body without proper testing and imaging, a speech therapist cannot safely and effectively treat dysphagia without seeing what is going on inside of the throat.
If you are noticing new symptoms of speech, language, voice, or swallowing impairment, please call your physician.