Published on May 06, 2021

Issues Linger for COVID-19 Long-Haulers

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An estimated 10-30% of COVID-19 survivors are experiencing “long-haul” symptoms.

The pandemic has posed many challenges to us as a society, but among the most persistent and vexing are the difficulties many people continue to have for months after contracting COVID-19. From brain fog, to difficulty eating and drinking, and speech and language problems, these issues can affect your ability to return to work, take care of your family and overall recovery. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can help with:

Cognition

Many COVID-19 “long-haulers” are reporting persistent brain fog as a debilitating symptom after their bout with the virus. This can prevent a return to work and impact their ability to tend to family responsibilities. SLPs can work with individuals to improve their memory, attention, organization and planning, problem solving, learning and social communication. Patients relearn conversational rules or understanding the intent behind a message or nonverbal cues. The focus is on the person’s specific challenges.

Swallowing

People diagnosed with COVID-19 may experience swallowing problems that can put them at risk for choking or aspirating, which is when food goes into the lungs instead of the stomach. This may be the result of time spent on a ventilator, or it may be another side effect of the virus. SLPs use different tests to determine what happens when a person swallows and how the related muscles are working. The test results help a patient’s medical team decide on the best course of action. SLPs may recommend modified textures of food and drink; therapy exercises to strengthen the tongue, lips and muscles of the mouth and throat; and strategies to make eating and drinking safer, such as modifying the pace of chewing, size of food and more.

Communication

People diagnosed with COVID-19 are also experiencing speech and language difficulties. Some, such as those who spent a significant amount of time on a ventilator or experienced low oxygen to the brain, may have muscle weakness or reduced coordination in the muscles of the face, lips, tongue and throat – making it difficult to talk. Others, particularly those who experienced a COVID-related stroke, may experience a language disorder called aphasia –which makes it hard for someone to understand, speak, read or write. SLPs design therapy to help improve a patient’s communication and understanding.

People who have severe speech and/or language difficulties may need to find other ways to answer questions or tell people what they want, such as through gesturing with their hands, pointing to letters or pictures on a paper or board, or using a computer. These are all forms of augmentative and alternative communication. SLPs help find the appropriate method to meet each individual’s needs.

Where to Find Care

North Mississippi Health Services offers speech therapy to patients in the hospital or long-term care facilities, outpatients and in patients’ homes. Many SLPs are also providing their services via telehealth at this time. If you or a loved one are experiencing communication challenges, let your doctor know.

For more information about speech therapy, call NMMC Outpatient Rehabilitation at (662) 377-7215 or 1-800-THE DESK (1-800-843-3375). Additional resources are available at www.asha.org/public.

From brain fog, to difficulty eating and drinking, and speech and language problems, lingering issues can delay overall recovery.