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Speech and Language therapy

What does a Speech and Language Therapist do?

Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) are specialists who are trained in assessing and treating swallowing and communication problems.Speech and Language Therapy has a very important role for patients admitted to Intensive Care due to COVID-19, as they may spend longer on a ventilator or breathing machine, and may therefore be more prone to swallowing and communication problems.  

Why might I need a Speech and Language Therapist in or after Intensive Care?

It is not uncommon for patients who have spent longer on a ventilator or breathing machine to develop short-term problems with swallowing or with their voice, although not everyone is affected in this way. These problems are often due to having the breathing tube (also called an "endotracheal tube", "ET" or "ETT") in place for longer periods of time, where it can weaken the throat muscles. The team looking after you may ask a Speech and Language Therapist to see you, if you have difficulty talking or swallowing.

Communication difficulties (voice loss or changes)

Temporary changes to the sound and strength of your voice can occur. Your voice might sound quieter, hoarse or breathy, or you may (temporarily) lose your voice completely. You also might have difficulties moving your tongue and lips due to muscle weakness. The Speech and Language Therapist will carefully assess these problems. They can help you with visual, auditory or spoken exercises to help your recovery, and can help you to communicate e.g. using picture charts or communication devices. They can also provide training to the Intensive Care staff, to help them understand what you want to say. 

Swallowing difficulties

You may have difficulty swallowing your saliva, or eating and drinking.This is because the muscles used in talking are also used in swallowing, and they may have been weakened by your illness and/or by having the breathing tube in place. COVID-19 can affect your breathing, so it may be more difficult for you to co-ordinate breathing and swallowing together. The Speech and Language Therapist will carefully assess your swallowing, either by asking to eat small samples of food and drink under their supervision, or by arranging more detailed tests using scopes or X rays. 

Based on their assessments, the Speech and Language Therapist may recommend that you have moist or mashed food, and slightly thickened liquids. If it is considered unsafe for you to take any food or drink through your mouth, you may need to have a feeding tube (also called a "nasogastic" or "NG" tube) put in place, while your swallowing recovers. 

Mouth care 

The breathing tube can sometimes make your throat and mouth dry or sore, and this too can affect your swallowing. The Speech and Language Therapist has specialist knowledge on preventing or helping you with this, including recommending special tooth paste and mouth gels. 

If you would like to find out more about what Speech and Language Therapists do, you can visit the official website of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, by clicking here 




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Web Link: Speech & Language Therapy (link to their official webpages on ICU)

This link will take you to the website of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, and their web pages on Intensive or Critical Care. The language used can be a little formal and technical in places, but you might find their web pages useful.There are 6 pages in total, covering the following topics: How speech & language therapy can help in critical care What you can expect from speech & language therapy in critical care Some resources (links to short videos and...