Celebrating Better Speech and Hearing Month

St. Joseph’s is proud of our speech language pathologists and communicative disorders assistant working across St. Joseph’s during this challenging time. May is Better Speech and Hearing Month.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed distinct challenges for many health care professionals – and patients – across Canada, including speech-language pathologists.

When a ‘hands-on’ approach to care was suddenly sidelined by COVID-19 restrictions and physical distancing, offering virtual care through the use of technology has become a way to continue vital rehabilitation therapy for some patients and health care disciplines.

Within St. Joseph’s stroke outpatient rehabilitation programs, virtual care through the use of the Ontario Telemedicine Network – a province-wide network for virtual care – has been instrumental in continuing care for some patients during this unprecedented time.  

Read Robert Jenkinson’s story – a recent stroke survivor receiving care at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Institute – and the speech-language pathologist who has supported him virtually along the way.

Virtual speech therapy

A voice rediscovered 

When 77-year-old Robert Jenkinson began his virtual care session with St. Joseph’s speech-pathologist Debra Medzon, he couldn’t speak. After suffering from a stroke in early March 2020, a faint whisper – almost inaudible - was the extent of his verbal communication. Robert would spend weeks receiving treatment as an inpatient at St. Joseph’s Stroke/Neurological Rehabilitation Program. 

During that time, Robert received care from a team of health care professionals, including nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, registered dietitians and speech-language pathologists. While his lack of mobility caused by the stroke improved greatly, his speech and use of vocal cords remained limited.

When concerns about COVID-19 began to ramp up, Robert was discharged and transitioned to St. Joseph’s Community Stroke Rehabilitation Team – and then everything stopped due to the evolving pandemic. 

“It was a stressful time,” says Janet Jenkinson, Robert’s wife of 52 years and his primary caregiver. “When we heard about the opportunity for virtual care therapy sessions, we were grateful that someone had reached out to us.”

Through a secure and hospital supported OTN video conferencing service, Robert – with the help of his wife - is receiving speech language therapy virtually to help regain his speech.  Speech-language pathologists work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders.

Janet says the virtual sessions were a little challenging at first, but with some minor adjustments the benefits have been extensive. “Robert was exhausted when we first started,” she says. “We then worked with Debra to shorten the therapy to half-hour sessions, three to four times a week. This made a world of difference.”

Virtual speech therapy 2

As a professional with specialized training in treating serious voice problems, Debra says she is proud of the virtual care happening within St. Joseph’s stroke outpatient 

programs. “Virtual care may not be suitable for every patient,” says Debra. “As a speech-language pathologist, I often need to physically touch the patient to manipulate the larynx, or for issues related to muscle tension or positioning.”

Debra adds that she had to consider a variety of best-practice techniques prior to her virtual therapy sessions with Robert. “One technique I used was having Robert cough and clear his throat,” says Debra. “This helped to establish that Robert was capable of making a sound with his vocal cords and rule out any vocal cord paralysis. In some cases, patients who experience a stroke need therapy to retrain their brain to control the different muscles used for speech.”

As the virtual therapy progressed, Robert slowly began to regain the use of his voice. He is now speaking clearly and in full sentences.

“Getting someone who has no voice, back into their voice is a career highlight every time it happens,” says Debra. “The hard-work of both Robert and Janet to adapt to the OTN technology and continue this therapy at home has been remarkable.”

Robert and Janet are grateful for the virtual support they have received. “My voice keeps getting stronger and stronger,” says Robert.  

“It’s been a virtual lifeline,” says Janet. “If I was the sole caregiver to help Robert with his speech, the outcome may have been quite different. We are very grateful.”  

Debra Medzon is a speech-language  pathologist working within the Specialized Geriatric Services Program and the Community Stroke Rehabilitation Team at Parkwood Institute. She has since been redeployed to other care areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic but was able to lend her expertise to help Robert with his serious voice issues. 

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