Bridgepoint Health is increasing the number of severely disabled patients it is helping to regain the ability to communicate through the use of computer technology and sophisticated switch systems.
Bridgepoint, a Toronto network of health facilities and services, helps about 40 patients use
a variety of face-to-face or written communication devices through its augmentative communication and writing clinic, which was recently designated an expanded level of service by the provincial government.
Michael Seaman, the technologist recently hired to deploy and customize the technology, says devices range from those employing direct selection — in which the patient uses his or her finger, voice, eye, hand or some other body movement — to those requiring indirect selection, such as scanning.
“”Items in the selection set are presented to the user one at a time for the user to select from by activating the control interface, usually a switch, at the proper time, he says.””
Switches, he adds, can be activated by any movement — touch, breath, sound or light, for example — that can produce an on/off.
One of the companies that supplies such devices to Bridgepoint is Sunrise Medical Canada.
Jennifer Morrison, national sales representative for the Dynavox line of augmentative communication technologies, says Sunrise supplies about 20 clinics in Ontario with products such as Dynawrite, Dynamo and Dynavox. While the equipment is generic, it can be customized for each patient’s needs. “”One client with ALS and the vocabulary they need isn’t necessarily the same as the next client, so it’s customized to the individual but the software is generic,”” she says.
Prices range from a few hundred dollars on the low end for digitized products that require someone to record their voice for playback, to about $12,000 for the more complicated devices that allow users to communicate on a higher level. With synthesized devices, “”You can compose a novel message and it will speak whatever you’ve composed,”” she explains.
The biggest problem with deploying the technology is not the cost, however, she notes — it’s the lack of access to them and the awareness they exist.
“”There are some neurologists and other professionals who deal with ALS patients who don’t know this technology exists,”” she says. “”There’s a big need for education. Veterans are another group that is really underserviced. A lot of people assume that because you’re older and non-speaking there are also cognitive (problems) and that’s not necessarily the case. They’re just frustrated because they can’t speak.””