FAIRFIELD, Conn.—In recognition of national Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM), Sacred Heart University’s speech-language pathology (SLP) program is sharing an important message. With an estimated 10% to 30% of COVID-19 survivors experiencing “long-haul” symptoms—including cognitive issues and swallowing difficulties—speech-language pathologists (SLPs) at SHU are encouraging the public to seek care from qualified experts who can help them regain their functioning and quality of life.
The pandemic has posed many challenges for society, few more persistent or vexing than the difficulties many people experience for months after contracting COVID-19. From brain fog, to problems eating and drinking, to speech and language problems, these difficulties can affect someone’s return to work, the ability to take care of family, and overall recovery.
However, many people don’t know about the services of SLPs, who are professionals trained in these areas. They can make a huge difference for people suffering during or after COVID-19.
How SLPs help
SLPs can help people who are experiencing short- and longer-term difficulties from COVID-19 in the following areas:
Cognition: Many COVID-19 “long-haulers” report persistent brain fog as a debilitating symptom after their bout with the virus. This can prevent a return to work and impact their ability to tend to family responsibilities. SLPs can work with individuals to improve their memory, attention, organization and planning, problem solving, learning and social communication. Specific help with communications includes relearning conversational rules or understanding the intent behind a message or behind nonverbal cues. The focus is on the person’s specific challenges as well as regaining the skills that are most important to their daily life and priorities.
Swallowing: People diagnosed with COVID-19 may experience swallowing problems that can put them at risk for choking or aspirating, which is when food goes into the lungs instead of the stomach. This may be the result of time spent on a ventilator, or it may be another side effect of the virus. SLPs use different types of tests to determine what happens when a person swallows and how the related muscles are working. This helps a patient’s medical team, including the SLP, decide on the best course of action with the patient and their family. SLPs may recommend modified textures of food and drink for patients, therapy exercises to strengthen the tongue, lips and muscles in the mouth and throat and strategies to make eating and drinking safer, such as modifying the pace of chewing, size of food and more.
Communication: People diagnosed with COVID-19 are also experiencing speech and language difficulties. Some, such as those who spent a significant amount of time on a ventilator or experienced low oxygen to the brain, may have muscle weakness or reduced coordination in the muscles of the face, lips, tongue, and throat—making it difficult to talk. Others, particularly those who experienced a COVID-related stroke, may experience a language disorder called aphasia—which makes it hard for someone to understand, speak, read or write. SLPs work with patients through targeted therapy to improve their communication and understanding.
People who have severe speech or language difficulties may need to find other ways to answer questions or tell people what they want, such as through hand gesturing, pointing to letters or pictures on a paper or board, or using a computer. These are all forms of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). SLPs help find the appropriate AAC method to meet an individual’s needs.
Where to find care
SLPs work in settings that include hospitals, long- and short-term care facilities, private practices and patients’ homes. Many SLPs are also providing their services via telehealth at this time. If someone is experiencing communication challenges, SHU’s SLPs recommend letting a doctor know.
About Sacred Heart University
As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 386 Colleges–2021 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best Business Schools–2021 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theatre. www.sacredheart.edu