COMMUNICATION AIDS

Communication aids provide alternative ways of communicating for patients who have lost the function of speech, usually due to dysarthria in progressive neuromuscular diseases, and occasionally after head injuries or with brain tumors.

If a patient is still able to move his arms, writing messages usually remains the best option, and a wipe-off screen is often very useful.

If arm weakness begins to become a problem, alternatives to writing have to be considered, including:

  • Miniature typewriter

  • Typewriter with large keyboard

  • Patient-operated selector mechanism

  • Transparent chart

  • Word board

«  Referral to an experienced speech therapist or occupational therapist with up-to-date knowledge of communications equipment is essential, so that a suitable device can be obtained and future needs assessed.

A patient who cannot even point may still be able to operate “Possums” (patient operated selector mechanisms) activated by very slight movement or suck-blow, used to stop and start a light scanning over a number of words or phrases.

If the patient has only eye movement, he may still be able to spell out words using a transparent letter board. The patient is viewed through the board and uses eye movements to spell out words. Alternatively, a word or symbol chart that a companion can point to can be very helpful.

Computer ingenuity and microchip technology is improving all the time. In addition to assistance with communications, it will someday offer disabled patients more opportunities for continued employment.

Important points:

  • Make sure all equipment is accessible, as the patient can’t ask for it.

  • Converse with the patient, don’t simply admire the equipment! It takes courage to change from normal speech to dependence on a machine. Have a positive attitude and be encouraging.

  • Allow time. The patient may have spent a long time preparing questions or comments in advance. Try to avoid speaking for the patient and thus closing conversation down.

  • Encourage graded use well before all function is lost. Skillful timing in introducing communication aids is essential.

  • Mobile arm supports can prolong the usefulness of communication aids.

  • Remember that using communication aids is tiring for both the user and listener.


The author and publisher have taken precautions to ensure that the information in this book is error-free. However, readers must be guided by their own personal and professional standards of good practice in evaluating and applying recommendations made herein. The contents of this book represent the views and experience of the author, and not necessarily those of the publisher.


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