COVID 19-The Impact on Communication

The Speech and Hearing Association of Canada informs us that more than 10% of school aged children have communication difficulties, at least 30% of stroke survivors experience communication difficulties, and up to 90% of people living with Parkinson’s disease have difficulty communicating. Furthermore, at any point in the school year between one and five children in elementary school will have some degree of temporary hearing loss due to hearing ear infections and about 66% of people 70 years or older have hearing loss. In fact, hearing loss is known to be one of the major disabilities of our elderly population. With these statistics, it’s no wonder communication was negatively impacted by COVID-19.

During the first wave of COVID, clinicians all hustled to find ways to continue to serve the needs of our clients with communication issues. At the time, I was primarily working with clients with ABI (Acquired Brain Injury) and as I switched over to using a virtual platform, I quickly became aware of the impact that COVID had on us and our ability to connect to our world. 

When I did go out into the community, I reflected on the number of times I heard, “Pardon me”, “Excuse me”, “What did you say”? “I can’t here you, can you repeat that”? With our mouths covered, it was difficult to hear the muffled sounds of voices or receive the non-linguistic cues that we subconsciously rely on (reading lips, understanding facial expressions and eye movements). Meanwhile, while this communication breakdown was happening, I also noted that eyeglasses were fogging up. Adding another level of difficulty to the difficulty understanding each other. 

As someone who believes that communication is a basic human right and that everyone should have access to

To a communication system, I realized how difficult this was going to be for the clients I treat everyday.

What were some of the things we could do?

According to the Speech Language and Hearing Association in Canada, wearing a mask changed communication for everyone and they suggest using transparent masks and face shields which can help improve communication. 

According to the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care dated August 25, 2020, authored by BV. Reddy and Archie Gupta, understanding and practising various communication strategies is crucial for physicians and healthcare workers to develop therapeutic Relationships with COVID-19 patients. 

They go on to say that effective communication is proactive, polite, imaginative, professional and technology friendly. However, there are multiple factors play a key role in excepting information like social and cultural characteristics. They provide styles for affective communication by doctors and including the CLASS: Context, Listening Skills, acknowledge (How to validate), Strategy (Plan that patient can understand) and Summary (Summarize the plan and repeat it for patients).

According to the American Speech Language and Hearing Association and Speech, Language, Hearing Association of Canada, in their article about communicating effectively while wearing masks and physical distancing, they provide the following tips to enhance  communication that are worth mentioning here:

  • Make sure you have your communication partners attention
  • Face your partner directly and make sure nothing is blocking your view
  • Talk a little louder 
  • Talk a little slower 
  • Use your hands and your body language
  • Ask your partner if they understood you, if not say it in a different way or write it down
  • Moved to a quiet place if you can 
  • If you’re talking with someone new, ask if there’s anything you can do to make
  • communication easier for both of you. 

The past few years have taught me more than I have learned my entire life working as an SLP. I was forced  to think creatively, to ensure I took great care of myself, so that I could provide the care I needed to me family can clients, and how to work under stressful conditions. I learned new ways to effectively communicate with my clients and developed new practice paradigms that maximized the use of technology. I am grateful to the clients who allowed me to provide them care and who trusted my input on effective communication strategies that allowed them to share their thoughts and ideas. Remember these tips when you go out into the community and use them in your daily interactions with others. Also remember, most of all, to BE KIND. Signing off for now, Lisa Abbott Moore, SLP, Ottawa Canada