Speech Therapy May Effectively Address Long COVID Communication Issues

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In addition to the physical symptoms of long COVID, patients have reported vocal, verbal, and cognitive issues that disrupt their ability to communicate.

As the world enters the post-pandemic stage of COVID-19, our understanding of post-COVID conditions and how to successfully treat them continues to grow. Post-COVID conditions, also known as long COVID, include a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people experience after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Researchers have learned that communication issues are among the concerns that plague individuals in their recovery. Although there is no pharmaceutical product that can be specifically prescribed to address or treat speech issues, the good news is that speech therapy can help patients significantly improve in these areas and enhance quality of life.

Understanding Long COVID

This recovery stage can be anything but easy as conditions can last up to months or years. In addition to physical symptoms, patients are reporting vocal, verbal, and cognitive issues that are disrupting their ability to communicate, including:

  • Cognitive impairment: Mild to severe trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life.
  • Brain fog: Diminished mental capacity marked by inability to concentrate or to think or reason clearly.
  • Speech and language issues: Difficulty forming specific words or sounds correctly or making words or sentences flow smoothly, such as stuttering or stammering.

Although there is no test to confirm long COVID symptoms, the CDC notes that the wide spectrum of symptoms can make it challenging to know whether they are due to COVID or other health conditions. Additionally, these symptoms may seem hard to explain or manage when viewed through a traditional diagnostic lens.

Value of Speech Therapy

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has recognized the need for, and value provided by, speech language therapists assisting in the recovery of patients with long COVID. Speech therapy may provide an effective means to address issues and conditions such as:

  • Voice: Hoarseness, fatigue, dry throat, and related vocal cord issues, particularly for patients whose treatment included the use of ventilators or who were affected by mask wearing.
  • Cognition: Memory, organization, problem-solving, and social interactions are common symptoms of brain fog, a collective term for common cognitive problems reported by long-COVID patients
  • Communication: Difficulties in talking, reading, writing, and recalling words.

Speech therapists have a variety of approaches that can help with long-haul COVID communication challenges. For example, spaced retrieval helps patients practice recall and use of relevant information over increasing intervals of time. Patients who have difficulty speaking can sometimes sing their speech, so speech therapists may introduce melodic intonation therapy as part of the treatment protocols.

Script training has patients work with their therapists to develop common scripts for communication needs, which improves sentence formation, speech rate, and overall confidence. Speech therapists can also focus on auditory and visual cueing and strategic retrieval approaches that can help patients to recall the words they wish to use.

In addition to providing therapies that directly strengthen patient communication skills, speech therapists will work with patients to design a treatment protocol with long-term life goal touchpoints that are relevant and meaningful. This engages the patient in the recovery process and provides short- and long-term goals for recovery.

Virtual Speech Therapy Mitigates Risks of Non-Treatment

Without treatment, long-COVID patients also can start to self-isolate, which may exasperate feelings of depression and loneliness during a long recovery period.

Many people prefer working with a virtual speech therapist who can support patients as they regain their communication skills, whether individually in person, in a group therapy session, or online through virtual appointments.

Virtual speech therapy eliminates transportation time and costs, lost time from work, and risk of further spreading infection. Most patients also prefer the comfort and privacy of their home in which to receive speech therapy.

A long COVID patient who struggles with brain fog, communication, or voice issues should see a physician for a formal diagnosis and ask for a virtual speech therapy referral to get help in the comfort and privacy of their home.

For more information, visit greatspeech.com/covid-recovery/.

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