Helping an ALS Patient Communicate
Many people with ALS have written that losing the power of speech is the worst part of the disease. Speech is something most people take for granted, and it’s a vital tool that keeps us connected with loved ones, friends and co-workers. Speech may be partially lost relatively early in the course of ALS. Eventually, usually late in the disease, speech may be lost entirely, because of loss of the muscles that allow the vocal cords to function and loss of muscles in the lips and tongue that are used to form words. Speech-language pathologists help a person with ALS make the best use of the muscles he still has. Also while speech is still possible, it’s a good idea to start planning for a time when this ability will be lost.
Low-tech solutions are writing tools, such as a pad and pencil, magic slate, or chalk board. However, many (not all) people with advanced ALS will have lost the ability to use their fingers to write before they lose their ability to speak. For them, a low-tech solution might include using a pointer and a board with letters, phrases or pictures, either purchased from a commercial supply house or made at home.
In the mid-tech range are ordinary computers, which can be improved considerably by software programs that allow whole words and phrases to be typed when the operator presses only one key (“word prediction” programs).
Moving toward high-tech solutions, you can purchase computers that speak for you as you type, and you can buy computer “switches” (what computer people usually think of as a type of “mouse”) that let the operator use the computer with any muscle he has — mouth, forehead, little toe and so forth.