End of life care
Sometimes, a speech pathologist is called upon to assist during one of the most sensitive times in a person’s life. When a person is succumbing to advanced age and nearing the end of their life and their faculties have become less than what they once were. Speech pathologists have specialist knowledge about dysphagia, a complication which arises with swallowing. They are an integral member of the health care team and contribute significantly to the care of patients nearing end of life. Problems with eating and drinking are often the primary concern. Helping with communication abilities may also be needed.
How speech pathology at the end of life can help
Speech pathologists can help patients facing end of life. If a patient has difficulty with eating and drinking the speech pathologist works with the patient and carers to develop strategies that will allow the patient to eat normally for as long as possible. The speech pathologist may be asked to participate in decision-making about the use of alternative nutrition like tube feeding. This will help to give the patient necessary nutrients. Every step of the way, the speech pathologist will consider every option with the utmost care.
No less important are problems with communication. Difficulty breathing can cause problems with speaking. In this situation the speech pathologist can develop an alternative communication strategy that will allow the patient to express his wants and needs effectively. In this way, the speech pathologist helps to create a time where the patient can live out their remaining time still being able to effectively communicate and express themselves with their friends and loved ones. This helps maintain what strength remains to the patient by helping them eat comfortably and communicate effectively.
Speech pathology helps fulfil quality of life for their patients, even when faced with end of life. The pattern of functional decline at the end of life varies, depending on the patient’s diagnosis. In some cases, the decline may be very gradual until the last few months or weeks, as with some cancers. In other cases, such as dementia, the decline may be more variable over a longer period of time. The role of the speech pathologist extends as far as the patient and family wishes. The speech pathologist understands that what may be best for the patient clinically may not always be accepted as best for the patient’s quality of life. It is of utmost importance to honour the wishes of the patient and family when appreciating end of life issues. Social and cultural beliefs must be recognised and respected.
At the end of life it is not the speech pathologist’s goal to facilitate rehabilitation or recuperation but to allow the patient some continuation of quality of life. At such a time, the wishes of the patient and their family will be taken into the utmost consideration at all stages. The goal is to make what is so often a time of grieving, a time where everyone involved can still communicate and enjoy the time they have.
Contact us if you have questions about speech pathology at the end of life.