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If something characterizes covid-19, it is the diversity of organs and systems it affects. At the neurological level, for example, patients with covid-19 present very complex symptoms. And since it can cause injury to various areas of the nervous system, it is also capable of affecting different functions.
In addition, the infection causes dyspnea or hypoxia, which reduces the ability of the lungs to provide enough oxygen to the organs, including the brain.
Additionally, covid-19 can lead to an increase in blood clotting factors in the body (hypercoagulation). This results in emboli that can cause brain damage, such as that seen in a stroke.
The negative consequences do not end there. Sometimes, people who survive the infection have a series of sequelae related to vital functions, such as breathing. But, in addition, there is the possibility that they suffer from cognitive impairment or hearing loss.
All these functions are related to the communication process, from the ability to produce the voice or listen to oral messages, to understand or produce language.
For all this, speech therapists must, on the one hand, know how this infection affects the various domains they serve as professionals. And, on the other, be alert to diagnose any of these symptoms in a timely manner to provide the necessary rehabilitation care.
Underdiagnosed cognitive disorders
The presence of cognitive, neuropsychiatric, language and communication alterations are frequent in the short, medium and long term in those who have experienced covid-19. But, although they dramatically impact the quality of life, they are not always diagnosed in a timely manner. This underdiagnosis is especially observed in older patients or with a previous comorbidity associated with cognitive impairment, neurodegenerative or respiratory diseases.
Perhaps it is because the symptoms of covid-19 do not follow a unique pattern in its manifestation or in the sequelae it causes. Or there may not always be a full multidisciplinary team that can carry out an ongoing comprehensive assessment.
Speech therapists in recovering from COVID-19
The results of different studies on the injuries caused by covid-19 allow us to affirm that many people who have suffered it have cognitive-based linguistic commitments.
They are similar to those that appear in patients with different types of aphasia caused by stroke or head trauma. That is, they have difficulties in accessing the lexicon (finding the necessary word to create coherent texts). But also limitations to understand or produce oral and written messages caused by executive dysfunction that hinders auditory processing, meaning assignment and response monitoring.
The sequelae of covid-19 treated by the speech therapist can also include disorders such as dysphagia –difficulty in swallowing due to motor base alterations that hinder the coordinated work of the oral and laryngeal muscles– and also dysarthria –alterations when planning and coordinating speech movements.
A historically unprecedented number of patients
Since covid-19 is a highly infectious disease of viral origin with frequent repercussions on the nervous system, it poses the enormous challenge of attending to a number of survivors with cognitive, neuropsychiatric, language and communication disorders without historical precedents.
The only way to guarantee the early identification of cognitive and sensorimotor involvement in communication is to have a multidisciplinary team. Specifically, a team of professionals in the neurological, psychiatric, cognitive areas (neuropsychologists), physiotherapists and speech therapists who, in addition to diagnosing and monitoring in the short, medium and long term, can provide recommendations to the family and the treating team to optimize goals , objectives and results.
Having speech therapists in hospitals and other clinical centers is essential, since they are the professionals in charge of evaluating the functions related to the linguistic-communicative, hearing and swallowing areas, among others.
Speech therapy, incidentally, considers the symptomatology of the different types of factors that can cause brain damage as a fundamental part of its scope of study. And there is a long tradition in studying its effects on human language and communication, encompassing these symptoms in a group called linguistic-cognitive.
We can conclude, therefore, that speech therapists are essential to identify a wide range of negative effects of COVID-19 infection. Especially in the early stages, these actions are necessary to guarantee adequate comprehensive care that allows improving linguistic-cognitive functioning and thus guaranteeing a better quality of life for patients and their families during and after the pandemic.
They have collaborated in the writing of this article Alejandro Cano Villagrasa, specialist in Speech Therapy at the University of Valencia – Luís Alcanyís Foundation, and Ana Paula MacKay, from the Speech Therapy Supervision Service of Santos, Brazil.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
Beatriz Valles-González does not receive a salary, nor does she work as a consultant, nor does she own shares, nor does she receive financing from any company or organization that may benefit from this article, and she has declared that she lacks relevant links beyond the academic position cited.