Communication Is Key

Hannah Speckhart
Therapy Director
Sothern Hills Skilled Nursing & Rehab

communication-boardCommunication is the strongest tool in which a healthcare provider must rely on in order to complete their job successfully. With an influx of diversity among patients in the healthcare system it is important to establish clear lines of communication with those who may not speak English as a primary language. Translating services (such as external companies) or the use of internet programming can be helpful but often lead to frustration due to the many dialects of each language subset. The use of more “universal” or basic communication strategies can prove to be more helpful, such as communication boards. Communication boards can be used in various age groups: elderly with dementia or communication deficits, adults during ventilated hospitalization stays, and children with developmental delays. The boards can also be customized to meet the needs of the specific individual or age group. At Southern Hills Health and Rehab Center specifically, communication boards have been used more frequently in recent weeks to address language barriers.

The biggest limitation to the use of visual boards for purposes of communication are if the patient has significantly impaired vision; at that point, verbal communication translation services become more appropriate. Communication boards are most commonly established through speech therapy in the skilled nursing setting. Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) are the most qualified to create successful communication channels for residents that fit their specific needs. These boards can be provided via hardcopy or as virtual images and or software. Communication software is most commonly found in the form of apps on tablets or smart devices especially when working with children or younger populations. Deficits in communication can be outlined, defined, and diagnosed more specifically so that treatment can be customized to address the specific areas of need.

Aphasia is a common diagnosis that SLPs treat in a variety of settings. Aphasia is defined as the loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by damage to the brain. Damage to the brain that influences communication is not always permanent but a patient’s environment can be adapted to suit their needs and maintain a level of safe independence. Other common diagnoses can influence one’s ability to successfully communicate: CVA (stroke), drug abuse, cleft lip or palate, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, and CP (cerebral palsy). Consistent therapeutic intervention and treatment to strengthen expressive and receptive communication can provide improved quality of life for patients of all ages.

communicationNot only can communication boards assist with treatment of aphasia and language barriers, it is also helpful with conscious and ventilated patients. The recent COVID19 virus most commonly attacks the respiratory and circulatory system resulting in an increase of ventilated patients during hospitalization stays. During ventilation, patients are unable to successfully and consistently communicate verbally and require other means in order to make sure their needs are met. During this period of mechanical ventilation it can also influence a patient’s mental/emotional state in regards to depression and anxiety. It is an understandably terrifying experience to regain consciousness without the ability to verbally communicate. Many patients therefore remain sedated during ventilation in order to decrease the likelihood of the patient traumatically removing the ventilation device. A study by Hosseini, Valizad-hasanloei, and Feizi found that “the use of communication boards in mechanically ventilated conscious patients may decrease patients’ anxiety” during ventilation periods. The quasi-experimental study split ventilated participants into 2 groups: experimental and control; the experimental group received communication boards and the control received primary communication methods. The results were measured by The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and Ease of Communication Scale. The study concluded vast scoring differences between the two groups in regards to these assessments, noting that communication boards decrease levels of anxiety. When a patient is provided with tools or resources to support autonomy as well as dignity, a patient’s anxiety can be slightly relieved knowing that they can retain a level of independence. Communication can be the strongest tool in someone’s arsenal in regards to self-worth; when that tool is taken from a patient it is understandable that a level of depression and anxiety will follow. With adaptations and compensations to a patient’s routine or environment, they can regain independence, dignity and self-worth in order to decrease the effects of depression and anxiety.

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