Talking to Patients on Ventilators By Dr. Mayank Garg

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Mechanical ventilation prevents patients from communication by speech. Concomitant muscle weakness impairs their communication by non-verbal gestures and writing. Thus, they feel lonely, frustrated, anxious, delirious and agitated. Effective communication strengthens patient-therapist bond thereby improving their quality of life in ICU.

To enhance communication, one may use alphabet charts, pictures, charts with phrases (like ‘I have pain’, ‘please turn me over’ etc) and patients can point to their needs using these. Ask questions which can be answered in yes/no via head nodding. Try to pick up other non-verbal gestures/cues sent by patients. Exercise regularly as it will improve their strength. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is also used in a few settings.

So, next time you see patients in ICU, don’t forget to reassure them, touch them, be kind to them, and listen to them as all these have the potential to turn a life around.

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