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Aids For Communicating With Hospitalized People?

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the hawking's-computer dept.

Handhelds 160

charliezcc writes "My grandmother recently fell and broke two vertebrae (among other things) and is in the hospital while she recovers. Thankfully, she was not paralyzed and retains the use of her limbs. However, they have placed her on a respirator and she is virtually unable to communicate with us, so while we try to keep her company during her recovery, our company is reduced to mainly one-sided conversations. Asking her questions, even yes/no questions, is hard because of the neck brace — it turns into a guessing game and very quickly becomes frustrating for both parties. I'm a firm believer in the power of positive mental attitudes and to make her recovery a little better and I'd like to be able to facilitate two-sided conversations with her so she can keep positive. Keeping in mind that she does not have much technology experience, what would you suggest I utilize to ease the communication barrier? I remember seeing devices with a number of buttons that say whatever you program it to say, but I can't find these anymore. What other kind of devices are available?"

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Paper and pencil? (1)

Simonics Zsolt (711668) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284917)

Paper and pencil?

Not nearly techy enough (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284943)

It has to be a pen at least, and better one of those pressurised ones which can write under water (You never know).


Really only TWO options available (4, Insightful)

spineboy (22918) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285739)

Pencil and paper, or some type of pointing board with common phrases/questions/answers on it. Most hospitals will have both.

As far as having his GRANDMOTHER learn any new technological choices, while in a hospital, sedated, on a ventilator, in a neck brace - FORGET IT. She's not gonna learn sign language easily, except yes/no. If she can't even write, because of medication/delirium/whatever, then she's not going to be able to learn new ways of communicating.

Sounds like she's an old lady, and somewhat frail like many older people. Becoming intubated for a vertebrae fracture is not normal, so I think she probably has multiple medical problems (I'm a doctor).

Stick to what she knows, and is comfortable - and she will do better with it.

Re:Really only TWO options available (2, Interesting)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286113)

I realize it's likely cost prohibitive, but from what I've seen of Mr (Dr, Sir?) Hawkings kit, the UI is very intuitive, especially for the portions where you're not trying to build a sentence (or a speech for that matter). You look at what you want to say and if you either blink or hover long enough the computer says it. It'd make yes/no I hurt, etc. questions a cakewalk.

@ spineboy
Assuming these are *not* cheap, how much is too much (IYHO) before a hospital would not buy them to have on hand in cases like this? AFAIK they are not even available as even a specialty item, but it got me thinking...


Re:Really only TWO options available (1)

OhPlz (168413) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286715)

I was surprised that my local hospital couldn't come up with either while I had a stay there, unable to speak. I had done a great job shattering my jaw. In the ER I answered by holding up fingers, which was frustrating because I couldn't express much other than yes or no. It wasn't until several days after surgery that a nurse finally came up with a pen and notepad.

If I was in pain or feeling nauseas or whatever, I could hit the call button but couldn't say anything. They'd have to come right away not knowing how urgent it was, and then it was a guessing game. As bad as a hospital experience can be, not being able to say anything makes it that much worse.

Misleading title (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285025)

You can't catch AIDS simply by communicating with hospitalised people!

Re:Misleading title (-1, Flamebait)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285079)

That depends on how you communicate.

Of course this is the submitter's grandmother. You're not supposed to communicate with your grandmother in ways that can give you AIDS.

Mod -1, Tasteless (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285111)

See above.

Re:Paper and pencil? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285065)

>Paper and pencil?

Listen, this is Slashdot. Stop being practical and start thinking like a wannabe nerd.

Don't listen to him, Charliezcc! Here's what you have to do: First get a PDA - not a current one, mind you, but something old and preferably unpopular.

Then, port Linux to it. You'll probably have to write the handwriting recognition software yourself, but no problem, right?

Once done, it will be the ideal device to facilitate two-way conversation between you and your grandmother.

Off you go! Shouldn't take more than a week, I'd say.

Oh, and I wish your grandmother the best and hope that she has a speedy recovery.

Tough penalty (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285931)

Wow, they want to give AIDS to those who communicate with hospitalized people?

That seems kind of harsh. Couldn't they just zap them with a taser or something?

Re:Paper and pencil? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285995)

dick and cunt.

Specking of cunt, I see a lady get cunted by a scapel today. Haf you ever seen that happen befoar? I got cunted between my figners by paper once. It wasn't realy nice, espeshaly when my salty dyck was rubbing tween the cracks. Made it sting lots.

Dr Fill Is this NORMAL?

Oh b'gollies the SlashFortune Gods of mercy have endowed undo me a thruster:

To confirm you're not a script,
please type the word in this image: thruster

Re:Paper and pencil? (3, Informative)

mrbooze (49713) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286105)

The hospital I worked in something like 15+ years ago had a supply of Magna Doodles. (I think that's what they were called, basically a toy that you could write on with a magnetic "pencil" and easily wipe off anything you wrote by sliding a level.)

They kept a few around the ICU/CCU for patients that needed them to communicate. At the time I sort of assumed that most hospitals kept some sort of tools around for that purpose.

Re:Paper and pencil? (5, Informative)

maxwells_deamon (221474) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286671)

A magna doodle is the way to go if possible. Paper piles up very quickly.

I had jaw surgery many years ago and went to the toy stores beforehand to get a couple of magic slates and they had just come out with the magna doodle so I bought one.

After the surgery, at the start of each of the first 4 shifts a nurse would come into my room and see it and say "OMG where did you get this?" "Could I borrow it for the floor meeting, Please" It would go away for a half hour and then come back. They did lots of jaw surgeries on that floor and were very tired of papers laying everywhere.

As I was wired shut for 7 weeks I even took it with me afterwards to shop and such.

Just make sure you write her name on the frame so she gets it back.

A Low tech solution (4, Insightful)

janrinok (846318) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284933)

I sympathise with your problem and wish your grandmother well. But try to get her to blink rather than nod her head. It is used quite frequently in cases such as this. I'm not trying to be rude, nor to sidetrack your question, but while you are doing your research it will enable limited 2 way conversation.

Re:A Low tech solution (4, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284955)

Grandma, two fingers for yes, one finger for no. And so on.

Re:A Low tech solution (5, Funny)

HalifaxRage (640242) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284967)

"She keeps telling me 'no', and always with the same finger"

AIDS is a plague from god (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285415)

hey niggers,
get this thru you're fucking heads:
god hates fags

lol AIDS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20284939)

pools closed, bitches

AIDS is an insurance company now? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285925)

Why is the pool closed? Why did you end your sentance with an itch? Wouldn't you have just itched yourself, rather than write it?

Hey, my SlashFortune is looking up: I got "cranked"

To confirm you're not a script,
please type the word in this image: cranked

Can she move her hands ? (4, Informative)

thornomad (1095985) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284941)

If she can move her hands you can setup a type of "communication board" -- the simplest of these can be words written on a piece of paper/cardboard. If she is able to point to them then she can communicate in a limited way. You can have one for basic needs and another for spelling words. That is the less technological version of what some people use (and I can't remember what it is called) that let's someone touch a screen that, in turn, speaks for them. A quick search and I find stuff like this [] . I'm sure there is more -- better -- out there. Good luck. That isn't easy.

Re:Can she move her hands ? (1)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285843)

That's what I was going to suggest. Also check with the attending; if the hospital has an ER and/or trauma center, they will likely have many of these communication boards available. Ask the attending or nurse for one.

Stay low-tech, for the sake of your grandmother. The last thing she probably wants right now is to be forced to use a computer to communicate.

About the only time I'd recommend using any kind of tech would be if she can use her hands, but can't use them to point. That is, if she can press a button. I saw somewhere once where you could get two buttons, one placed near (under?) each hand. One was clearly labelled YES and the other NO, and a light lit up for each press. It enables simple yes/no communication, but that's better than nothing if the patient can use her hands but is unable to point.

Dasher - 1 finger text entry (2, Interesting)

StCredZero (169093) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286277)

A tablet PC with Dasher might be the thing. Dasher is designed to enable 1 finger text entry at reasonable speed. My girlfriend uses it because of her repetitive stress injury. [] 080674416&q=dasher+google+tech+talk&total=2&start= 0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0 []

But if she can still write, that will be even better and faster.

Bed Time (4, Funny)

Knunov (158076) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284953)

Time to go to sleep. When I read the headline I thought, "Yeesh, that's a pretty harsh punishment for commuting with hospitalized people. And why do people in the hospital need to be sharing a car, anyway?"

Re:Bed Time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285233)

i'm so glad i wasnt the only one...then again...with goatse as ur link, maybe i should just defenestrate myself now. bai bai.


Anyone else notice that the captcha always matches my mood? eerie.

Re:Bed Time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20286603)

Nah, is not all our fault.

What kind of english sentence is this:
"Aids for communicating with hospitalized people"

Should be something like:

"Devices to help impaired people to interact"

But if you come straight from the original in Mandarin, or Sanskrit, it will end up on something like the "Aids" thing.

That is probably the same feeling that Romans had when they listened to some of our Barbaric Anglo ancestors trying to speak Latin. Welcome to lingua-franca time.

you could try these (4, Informative)

EricMB20 (1144673) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284959)

i've used these products in the past with children with special needs - they're great communication tools - a bit expensive - but good - you can rent them weekly as well so that might be a plus - good luck! []

eLocutor (2, Informative)

uss_valiant (760602) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284979)

For the extreme case there's eLocutor [] . It was designed for Stephen Hawking who can only push a single button. But it also has a mode for users that can control arrow keys in addition to a single button.
I don't know the field at all and I don't know eLocutor but from an article. Maybe it has a huge learning curve and is thus inappropriate as a short-term solution.

Signalling yes and no (2, Interesting)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284983)

She probably shouldn't nod and shake her head to signal yes and no, as that may strain her spine. Propose some other signal. The easiest of all is probably that she make the same movements with her fist that she would otherwise make with her head, imitating nod and head-shake with her fist.

Or better, give her a chart of the Sign Language Alphabet [] . With that she can say anything, if she and her listener both have enough patience. With that she could sign "Y" for yes and "N" for no, and in many cases choose among alternatives with just an initial letter.

Re:Signalling yes and no (2, Informative)

QuickFox (311231) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285049)

A better chart [] , a little clearer.

go digital (1)

camel9912001 (1144675) | more than 7 years ago | (#20284987)

How about morse code, of course, one needs to learn it first. Rest may also good for those in this situation as they may not want to have real, extended conversation anyhow until they are rested.

Re:go digital (1)

rally2xs (1093023) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285223)

Yes, the code can be done with the feeblest of movements if you set a bencher paddle at her fingers. Learning the code isn't that hard, especially sending it. Receiving it would probably be best done with a computer, or whoever wants to hear what she's talking about _is_ in for a learning experience, which _is_ pretty darn time consuming. And of course she has to want to do it.

Sign language (2, Interesting)

Migraineman (632203) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285963)

Learning morse takes a buttload of time. It's extremely abstract, and probably isn't going to be easily memorized by someone who's sedated. If she already knows morse, then I'd say it's more of an option.

Alternatively, teach her a handful of ASL signs. "Yes" is a fist you nod. "No" is two fingers pinched against the thumb. Finger spelling resembles the written characters in many cases, so it shouldn't be a big burden to learn. Don't be afraid to invent signs - that's perfectly valid, especially when the signer has mobility issues. We've done baby-sign with both of our kids, and it's worked out wonderfully. Some suggestions:

Pain - touch left and right index fingers together, then point to the pain
Help - raise your hand like you need to ask a question
Hungry - motion like you're putting food in your mouth
Thirsty - lift the imaginary cup to your mouth
Water - place the sign "W" to your lips
Toilet - wave the sign "T"
Sleep - place one or both hands against your cheek
Done - place a hand flat over your mouth (hard to do when on a respirator, so invent one that works)
More - touch all fingers in each hand, then tap the two finger bunches together

LOL - that has to be the worst solution so far (2)

spineboy (22918) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285791)

Kudos for an original idea, but do you really expect some old grandmother, sedated, on a respirator, from a minor vertebral break, to learn Morse code? For a young person, it's a better idea, although limited, because not everyone knows Morse code. With pencil and paper, she can communicate with everyone.

Since she's on a respirator ... (0, Troll)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286267)

"on a respirator"

  1. Breathe for "yes". Stop breathing for "no".
  2. Can I have all your money and stuff and pull the plug now? Look she's breathing ... that means "yes".
  3. PROFIT!

Of course, only a dickhead [] would do that ... Paging Dickhead Cheney ... paging Dickhead Cheney. (oops ... forgot, his preferred weapon is a few shots of booze and a shot to the head).

Re:LOL - that has to be the worst solution so far (1)

AB3A (192265) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287263)

Well, there are those of us who DO know the code. And the older you are, the more likely you'll know what it is and how to use it. Besides, I doubt you really have looked in to this, but a morse code keyer requires only very feeble movements to send a string of decently fast morse. It's probably faster than a paper and pencil. And computers can copy the results and display them on a screen.

It's not as stupid as it sounds for the short term.

Re:go digital (1)

ringbarer (545020) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287479)

S. O. S.

Kill Me.

S. O. S.

Kill Me.

As someone who knows.... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285001)

The easist solution is a whiteboard. They make them small enough to hold in one hand.

Here's the catch though. If she's on a respirator, she's under some level of sedation. She might be pretty awake and all, but she's unlikely to remember much (if anything) while she's on the respirator. (Respirator's are not fun to the body)

Aids For Communicating With Hospitalized People? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285011)

Simple, get a blood transfusion in Libya, from bulgarian nurses.

Seems a bit harsh... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285015)

Why would they want to get AIDS?

Old Topic, new answers (3, Insightful)

fishdan (569872) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285019)

I used to be a Sp.Ed teacher working with severe autistics (which has really made me a great member of a dev team). I had many students who could communicate, but did not have the fine motor skills to speak. High tech is sometimes more than you need. I know you're willing to spend whatever it takes for your grandmother, but in this case, a little time investment may be wiser than a cash investment.

My first suggestion is American Sign Language [] With a minimal amount of effort you can be communicating simply, and there's no reason to not spend more time learning more and stepping up to high end communication. I find ASL so useful that I've taught it to my friends for communication in loud bars, silent communication in meetings, secret messages we wish to pass in a room full of people, etc.

In terms of full fledged speakers, since you are not looking for a permanent solution, I'd recommend just using a OSX notebook. Open up the terminal, and type 'say hello world' You get the hang of it really quickly. On the windows side, Read Please [] is quite competent, and has a 30 day free trial period. Plus there is probably wifi in the hospital...

If you don't have a laptop that she can use, I would suggested printed boards. The 800 lbs gorilla in the field is Mayer-Johnson [] . Look around their products and see if maybe you can get away with something like their Picture Exchange Communication System [] . Essentially they are cards with pictures on them that can be used for communication. It's not a great system for an adult, but if you need something temporary it's only $179.

I wish your Grandmother a speedy recovery.

Re:Old Topic, new answers (2, Informative)

0123456789 (467085) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285715)

An alternative to OS X (or, at least, an OS independent solution) for text to speech is to use Emacs.


Take a look at EmacsSpeak [] , which handles text to speech (as well as speech to text).

Having said that, if nodding and shaking her head are too much; I doubt typing will be an option either. I think one of the lower tech solutions are more likely to be useful. Good luck!

if she can move her hands, mouse+ screen keyboard. (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285023)

Simple interface. I highly doubt someone alive doesn't know what a typewriter is.

have a TV or large monitor brought in with a mouse... the interface can be VERY simple... the standard typewriter layout with a text box for feedback, and a "finished" button allowing her to display what was typed.

additional optional buttons could be "yes", "no", "thank you", or other simple often used responses.

Re:if she can move her hands, mouse+ screen keyboa (2, Insightful)

scottv67 (731709) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285467)

have a TV or large monitor brought in with a mouse... Don't bring a pickup truck-full of electronics into the hospital room. The nurses have enough to do without stumbling over cords from devices you brought from home. The original poster said that the patient was on a ventilator. There are probably already quite a few electronic medical devices in the patient's room. If you are thinking of bringing in something bigger than a laptop, check with the nurses on that unit first.

Yes, I work in healthcare.

ASL (1)

FozE_Bear (1093167) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285029)

I think ASL is the best solution. If she is up to it, and wants a mental chalenge, find a tutor. A local Deaf Ed, or Speech Pathology student, or the hospitol's ASL interperetor. If I were that incapacitated (I know my spelling blows) I would CRAVE this kind of mental challenge. Sinple Yes, no, maybee, later, now, alphabet.... I would think it would be a real shot in the arm. You need to attend her sessions too, and take it seriously. Limited ASL can be very intuitive as well.

How about a laptop? (1)

Xzarakizraiia (751181) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285055)

When I lost my voice for a few days from tonsilitis, I carried around my laptop (an iBook G4) and used Apple's text-to-speech program. You can highlight any bit of text and it will read it. If she can type, this would be an option. It suited me pretty well... definitely made for an interesting game of D&D =P If you have an old laptop lying around of any variety, I'm sure there's a program you can download for Windows or Linux that does the same thing (Vista may even have it, I haven't checked).

Re:How about a laptop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285275)

espeak might be a good option for a text to speech program. It's available from [] and is also in the Ubuntu repositories. Apart from producing good quality speech with unmodified English text, it's also easy to use: Just type espeak "Whatever you want to say goes here" in the terminal.

It'll also take text files as input so you could produce a range of scripts with phrases in and then your Gran can just cursor up and down the command line history to pick a phrase. I wish her well btw.

P.S., You might want to change the default (male) voice!

Ummm.... (1)

keraneuology (760918) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285067)

If I was hospitalized, on a ventilator but with use of my limbs then I'd want a laptop balanced on my stomach - I can touchtype and wouldn't even need to look at the keyboard.

For those who can't do this, they have systems out there that allow you to spell words just by looking at the letters and blinking, which then convert to speech.

Etch-a-sketch? (1)

GeekDork (194851) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285069)

Low-tech solutions sometimes are the best... What about a small piece of whiteboard or the paper/cardboard idea mentioned before?

Other ideas include an Ouija board.

Re:Etch-a-sketch? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20286757)

Other ideas include an Ouija board.

But she's not dead yet!

Come on, you know you wanted to say it.

Your fuckin' FEET will aid you!!! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285091)

Stop reading slashdot you asshole and GO(!) there... old people will think your their grandson and fall apart in tears!!!

This article was written by an ignorant asshole.

an "institutional computer" (1)

HarryLLee (117850) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285101)

I am a stroke survivor. the palm form factor was just becoming ubiquitous when I was in rehab. I saw many applications for what I thought of as an "institutional computer", one they hand you at the door of the institution. in addition to the obvious (and not so obvious) communications uses. (I had a roommmate who spoke only thai. needless to say the staff did not, such a computer could also be used to provide you info on your condition, and be used to track your progress and help you with the ADLs of rehab (going to rehab is not unlike going to school, with many classes you need to keep track of.) such a machine would have to be what I think of as sony yellow and/or "pukeproof". at the time I believed these machines would be nigh on to pure "moore's law machines" and drop by half in price every year, making handing them out at the door viable. but manufacturers have opted for feature-itis, and killed a market segment.

Read to her? (5, Insightful)

beadfulthings (975812) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285131)

If your grandmother is stuck on her back, and it sounds like she is, she might enjoy an occasional reading session--not too lengthy, though. Check at home. Does she subscribe to any particular magazines or to the newspaper? Chances are she's missing those. Any particular authors she enjoys? Something lightweight in her favorite genre (mystery, sci-fi, thriller, classics whatever) might be enjoyable. Religious? Bible or other scripture might be wanted. Of course you can get audiobooks of all sorts, but the actual presence of somebody she loves, who cares enough to take time with her, is a good medicine in and of itself. Check with the occupational therapy folks regarding the boards they have for communicating needs/wants.

Re:Read to her? (1)

Moderatbastard (808662) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287577)

What you say is very sensible. The people visting presumably have more interesting things to tell her (work, school, sports, whatever) than she has to tell them (stayed in bed all day, had some crappy food - maybe none - and some pills).

It's old but T-Board the Virtual Keyboard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285137) - The Global Ability Initiative have a program called T-Board the Virtual Keyboard.

The program runs on DOS/WIN98/2000/XP and can be run in Linux under a DOS emulator - No sound though in the published test version.

Notice the site hasn't been updated for a long time but the guys are, in their very limited spare time, working on porting their products to linux as open source, and the products will be Free as in beer and Freedom.

The curent system can have up to 7000 Preprogrammed sentences linked to icons/images - 70 available at the time on screen accessible via a single click switch.

A roughly 800 image/words dictionary is available as it is. available in 9 nine languages - English included.

The project is always interested in volunteers who can assist - both technical and non technical assistance is appreciated.

I hope this can be of assistance.


Einar Petersen

Pencils + paper (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285141)

When my great-grandmother was on a respirator, we just used pencils and a pad of paper. It worked remarkably well.

I would also point out that my great-grandmother found the pencils very useful for making her points. For instance: if people weren't paying attention to what she was trying to say, she'd break her pencil in half and throw it at the offending parties. Very effective.

You could also try a laptop, but if the person isn't comfortable typing, then it isn't really as effective a solution as you might think.

Dasher for text entry- (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285185)

While I'd agree that simple pencil and paper is often easiest, I thought I'd post this link to Dasher, which is a pretty cool little program for alternative methods of text entry... it can be eye controlled, breath controlled, finger controlled, pretty much anything, and apparently has a fairly quick learning curve, after which you can enter text over 30 words per minute- []

You need AIDS to communicate? (1)

navalynt (623324) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285193)

Wow, and I thought it was bad enough to have a computer virus!

Think low-tech, not high (2, Insightful)

Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285241)

A small whiteboard and marker pen
Pen and paper

There's no need to go any higher-tech than that, because you would have to teach her how to use the device instead of using her existing knowledge of how to write.

Re:Think low-tech, not high (1)

Edie O'Teditor (805662) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287307)

using her existing knowledge of how to write.
What if she's from Kansas?

Aids?? (1)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285245)

Just for trying to talk to them? That's a bit harsh!

Resources for communication aids (1)

cdsjeff (599277) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285303)

i would suggest searching for "augmentative and alternative communication" or "communication aids" or "AAC). Wikipedia lists a number of resources. You can also try [] which is the AAC site from the University of Nebraska and has loads of resources. Also you can look into [] which is a federally funded center for research in AAC.

Low Tech (3, Insightful)

sakusha (441986) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285391)

This problem requires a low tech solution. And fortunately, this is a problem that has a lot of practical solutions, derived from years of experience dealing with hospitalized, incapacitated patients. I used these to help take care of my mom, she was unable to talk.

Consult your hospital, they often have little message boards. There are some that have a little flip chart at the top, divided into functional categories like "I feel.. (sleepy, nauseous, good, thirsty etc.)" I want (water, pain meds, bedpan, etc.)" and then it has an alphabet at the bottom to spell out words that aren't on the chart, along with a list of common words so she doesn't have to spell them out (it, and, the, etc.).

If she can write, I recommend a "Magna-Doodle" pad. Very easy to use, clears with a push of the lever, designed for little kids so it's easy to use even for someone weak and incapacitated. Get a big Magna-doodle pad, that makes it easier to write long messages, or write big if you have poor motor control.

Electronic Solution (1)

borbetomagus (852370) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285495)

It's too bad some product, like from [] , aren't readily available to all hospitals. Maybe they do, as they're not cheap, but very useful with someone with a permanent condition.

What CAN she do? (1)

houghi (78078) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285499)

All will depnd on her ability to do anything. Asuming she can use her hands, you could connect this keyboard [] to a portable. The portable only needs to run some sort of simple editor wiith a huge font, so she can read it easily.

If you want a solution, you need to give more infor on her ability.

Paper and pencil? (2, Insightful)

kbahey (102895) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285525)

First, hope she gets well soon.

Why must hi-tech be the answer?

Why not use paper and pencil?

Are her hands free? She can gesture yes and no in a way that you can tell her to.

Re:Paper and pencil? (3, Funny)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287105)

Why must hi-tech be the answer?
Because this is

Low tech is handled by

Re:Paper and pencil? (1)

kbahey (102895) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287213)

hmm ... ok ... /me visits

Ummm, seems like it has no content, parked domain...

Joking aside ...

His Grandma is not tech savvy, nor in a position to learn tech stuff in that situation. So the path of least resistance is to use low tech ...

Re:Paper and pencil? (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287879)

Actually, only bad tech is distinguishable as "tech" -- good tech should be entirely intuitive based on typical skills that people already have, even old people.

a sign (1)

lseltzer (311306) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285653)

After my father's hear surgery many years ago he was intubated and couldn't communicate. I quickly drew up a chart of all the letters, numerals and "YES" and "NO". He spelled out "SEDATIVE".

People were impressed with it, but it's bloody obvious.

Re:a sign (1)

Jupiter Jones (584946) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286313)

I quickly drew up a chart of all the letters, numerals and "YES" and "NO".

Um, you mean a Ouija board?


Re:a sign (1)

lseltzer (311306) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286751)

Yes, exactly. It's perfect! And when he's unconscious we can get what he's thinking from it.

communicators (1)

juliac (31801) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285675)

Try Abledata [] or Assistivetech [] .

Low-motion computer solution (1)

nodrogluap (165820) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285693)

If you have a cheap laptop around, you can install Dasher [] . It requires virtually no mouse movement to write text, and it's actually fun to use too!

Re:Low-motion computer solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20286621)

Also elocutor [] .

DynaWrite device (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20285763)

Sorry to hear about your grandmother's injury and I wish her a speedy recovery. If she can type in her current condition, then possibly she could use a Dynawrite: [] It is a keyboard which can speak aloud any text you input. And it has some predictive features for commonly used words, as well as can learn phrases for playback with a "hotkey". Disclaimer: I have no connection to this company other than experience with the device, as my mother uses one after loosing the ability to speak to a neurologic condition. Also, this is quite an expensive solution for someone whom it seems could recover and regain powers of communication. Worked for us, but YMMV.

low-tech (1)

martyb (196687) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285799)

Keeping in mind that she does not have much technology experience, what would you suggest I utilize to ease the communication barrier? I remember seeing devices with a number of buttons that say whatever you program it to say, but I can't find these anymore. What other kind of devices are available?

Please accept my heart-felt best wishes for your grandmother's speedy recovery. (My mom was on a respirator for a couple weeks and it was difficult.) I also commend you for being pro-active about trying to find ways to help her.

As a card-carrying nerd, I immediately thought of high-tech solutions to the problem of my Mom's inability to talk. It bothered her and I wanted to find a way so she could TALK. As I ran through one possibility after another, I found that elegance and complexity is not necessary.

K.I.S.S. - We used pens and small pads of paper. The small size (about 5x7 inches) made it easy to hold. The thickness and the backing provided a built-in support to write on. It was simple to hand back and forth. This worked just fine for us.

I'd also encourage you to ask the hospital staff what they have found effective as well as ask them to seek input from other facilities.

Other ideas (in order of increasing technological complexity:

  • Yes/No questions Blink/tap once or twice.
  • Morse Code For starters: Dit=YES Daaah=NO. It'd only cost a few bucks to get a momentary switch, tone generator, speaker, battery holder, and enclosure. (BTW: Good keyers can key faster than text-ers can text.)

There's also text-ing messages and IM-ing (e.g. jabber, AIM) but that's overkill for this. Paper and pens require no batteries, emit no interference to sensitive medical devices, and the hospital could probably provide you with them free of charge.

Ultimately, it boils down to helping her find a way to communicate instead of finding a way to help her "talk". Best wishes for a speedy recovery.

P.S. Some of the most precious times I remember with my mom during her last days was just sitting there and holding her hand. I have found that words are just a convention that allows one person to share what is in their heart and head with another person. Holding hands does that.

Bad Title (0, Redundant)

Lunatrik (1136121) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285903)

They're already hospitalized, AIDS is just going too far.

No high tech, in this case (1)

WheelDweller (108946) | more than 7 years ago | (#20285937)

If she can flash her eyelids, wiggle a finger, or stick out her tongue to indicate yes or no, go with it. Putting technology here will only make it worse. How would you "tech support" something like that? Tech will be foreign to her (as it it to MY mom who's in a nursing home) and you just need to keep it simple.

Now long term, it's possible to do something tying muscle-control to a light, for example, but where you are now, keep it simple. She's hurting and feeling out of control.

And good luck to her!

Sound Boards! (1)

drew_92123 (213321) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286111)

set her up with a laptop and internet access(verizon unlimited business wireless card???) and set up some book marks to a bunch of sound boards... Sure, she might not sound quite like herself, but you'll be rolling around on the floor laughing your butt off... ;-)

Augmentative and alternative communication (2, Informative)

arb phd slp (1144717) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286315)

This is exactly what I do for a living.

Consider how long her recovery is expected to last. If she will be off the vent and speaking soon, you probably can make do with some low-tech solution or a stock laptop. A whiteboard and/or a cardboard alphabet and some immediately useful messages.

If it is going to be a while (more than a couple weeks) insist that the speech therapist at the hospital see her. Insurance will pay for speech therapy if you go the "Communication allows for active participation in care and treatment which has been demonstrated to improve recovery time and outcomes" route. A MEDLINE search will find plenty of clinical proof of this if you need it.

There are several manufacturers that make computers for this express purpose. Some have been mentioned already. Here's a list of a bunch of them: []

If you are in the U.S., your state has a lending program where you may borrow such a device for a trial before you commit to buying one. (And if she recovers speech, you might just use the loaner and not have to buy one at all). Most countries with national health programs have something similar. The hospital's speech therapist probably knows how to contact them.

If you don't get a satisfactory response from the hospital speech staff, see if your closest university has a Speech-Language Pathology of Communication Sciences and Disorders department. You might be able to get some good advice there.

Good luck.

I've fallen and I can't get up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20286363)

Can she still say this? Old people sure are funny.

use your cell phone by setting ring tones (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286457)

Our t86i allows us to set ringtones and once can set their own. The useful part is when you go to any phone number in the addressbook and assign a ringtone, you move the up/down button through the ringtones and they play the one the cursor is on.

So, on a modern mobile phone, record your voice for YES and NO and label them so they show up in the top of the list. Then, practice making it play each ringtone with the up/down buttons and then show/teach your grandma how to touch the buttons to "talk".

You can add other things later once she gets the hang of it.


Aids for Communicating with Hospitalized People (1)

missellen (941769) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286465)

If the hospital where your grandmother is at has a pediatric speech and hearing clinic, wander over and visit them. A number of other writers have suggested products like Boardmaker (Mayer-Johnson) and Dynavox products. Depending on your grandmother's level of functioning, she may only be able to operate a one-button switch right now. The most common type is called a Big Mack. The pediatric rehab and speech clinic would likely be kind enough to loan you a simple device, and help you make some communication boards that your grandmother can use. There is also probably also a geriatric speech and hearing person on staff in the hospital who specializes in the same thing. Don't try to go it alone -- there are lots of resources out there to lend support. Plug into those and give them the information they need to get to work.

Whiteboard and a marker (1)

shadowzero313 (827228) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286527)

When my granddad was in the hospital with a repirator and a feeding tube and all that, we got a smaller whiteboard, and velcro'd a marker and eraser to it. Worked very well.

Yoink... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20286577)

Grandma, the doctors want to pull the plug. I told them they should ask you first in case you disagreed. I'll just leave this Linux terminal over here...

Pike Method (1)

anotherone (132088) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286589)

Did this seriously go for this long without anyone mentioning Captain Pike?

Give her the buzzer from a game of Taboo or something and tell her one beep for yes and two beeps for no.

E-Triloquist (1)

krough (771131) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286749) []

My dad has a slow form of ALS and was hospitalized a few years ago and ended up having a tracheotomy. He was able to write, but not quick enough because of the ALS and got frustrated very quickly. Through the ALS network of people someone recommended this E-Triloquist software. They guy who wrote it had his father pass away from the disease. The software allows the user to click on buttons on the screen that represent certain words or phrases and the words are said out loud by a speech synthesizer. The user can also customize the interface to each specific user's needs. Best of all it's free. If you do want to donate, you can make donations to the Les Turner ALS Foundation.

My dad wasn't completely happy with that program even though it did everything he needed. It was a little too cluttered because it did so much. I created my own simple VB6 program that uses the Microsoft Speech SDK. I basically created a keyboard on the screen so he could type with the mouse. I also created a series of really big buttons with big fonts that he could use for very common phrases, like yes, no, pain, nurse, etc. There were also pull down menus with family member's names, common adjectives and things like that. The one that he liked the most was a button that made the sound of a cowbell that he could hit repeatedly to get people's attention that were not looking at him. I included buttons for fun things too, such as Homer Simpson's "Woo hoo!" and "Doh!". Those went over really well to ease tension, especially the "Woo hoo!" when he found out that the trach was going to be removed and he would be leaving the hospital.

I would recommend the E-Triloquist software. It's easy to install on any Windows laptop and it's free. It's been refined by years of user feedback. If you're not happy with it or want to experiment, I'll gladly send you my program and you're free to do whatever you want with it. If you can program a little you can easily make it do exactly what you need.

Cruelty (1)

Bloater (12932) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286881)

"Aids for communicating with hospitalized people"

What a cruel and unusual punishment, and I thought communicating with hospitalized people was regarded as something desirable.

humor of a decidely poor taste (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20286907)

As if I didn't hate hospitals enough already. Apparently you can get AIDS just from talking to people there!

My father had ALS... (1)

chadyarbrough (1144765) | more than 7 years ago | (#20286927)

We first used a large clear board with a keyboard printed on it. All we had to do was have him look at a letter and then we would move the bord around till he looked us in the eye. Then the letter we were looking at was the one he wanted to use. It would eventualy type something out. That is not a good long term plan so we bought a vanguard II from and it worked by tracking an infrared dot on his chin to move a curser. if held the curser over a letter for a seccond it would punch it. It is a really neat device. It will plug into a computer so he could surf the internet and write books. If you are interested, we are selling it and his toshiba M15-s405 laptop for 1500$. They normally go for like 8000. If i can be of any assistance please e-mail. We are in the nashville area. Good luck, god bless. Chad Yarbrough

blink out binary ASCII (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20286951)

of course!

But not patientline (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20287063)

Not hospital phones... []

Whiteboard and dry erase pens.. (1)

sck_nogas (525962) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287147)

When my father had broken several vertebrae in his neck, he was in a halo collar to stabilize his neck. With the swelling of the fracture site, he lost the ability to swallow and speak. So, we purchased a small 8x14 inch white board and some dry erase markers. He had been unable to speak or communicate for several days before that, and his first words were based on a conversation the doctors had about his medication they had 2 days earlier. It was incredibly frustrating for him not to communicate.

Though he succumbed to his injuries, he was able to communicate with us and that made a tremendous difference in his care and our well-being. The other thing I can suggest is that if your grandmother does have swelling from the injury and the inflammation does press on the nerves. What we did the day before he died was get a remote controlled power strip. It allowed him to turn on and off the suction pump that would help him clear his throat. Before that he was completely dependent on us, doing his suction. The human body makes 2-3 gallons of saliva/mucus a day. If you can swallow it, it can go until the lungs and can cause pneumonia.

The simplest, most versatile way (1)

n9hmg (548792) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287179)

Since he's asking for technological ideas, obviously the no-brainers, like pencil/paper, whiteboard, waxboard, etc.. are beyond her current mobility. A morse code key - a straight key connected to an oscillator is a simple and easily-grasped idea. While I love the idea of setting her up an FT-817 and a window-mounted antenna so she can just talk to everyone, teaching the code to someody in that condition is unlikely. The moment the key and oscillator is hooked up, she's up to Christopher Pike [] -level communication - one for yes, two for no. Add in long pulses to bring attention to start the yes-no guessing game. With that key as an outlet for communication, she'd immediately be able to pick up a few key characters - The numbers, "U" and "D" for up and down, "L" and "R" for left and right, and "I" for the itches she'd need u,d,l,&r for, initials of other frequent needs, favorite foods, etc.. If she's in for very long, you can elaborate - phone and/or internet connection, whatever. A lever switch , a AA cell and holder, some wire, and a tiny peizo buzzer from radio shack - maybe an spdt switch and a panel bulb for silent comms, and possibly a small piece of wood to mount at lest the switch on, 3 minutes with your soldering iron, and her mind is free. If she's got motor control issues, you'd have to obtain or create a suitable actuator - something as simple as an extension to the lever switch to make it easier to hit, to making a separate spring-loaded switch to keep her from actuating it unintentionally.

Re:The simplest, most versatile way (1)

Edie O'Teditor (805662) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287395)

Since he's asking for technological ideas, obviously the no-brainers, like pencil/paper, whiteboard, waxboard, etc.. are beyond her current mobility.
You're jumping to conclusions. People often assume the solution has to be high-tech and complicated when often something old-fashioned and simple will get the job done easier and cheaper.

What are you thinking? Have some common sense. (3, Insightful)

dircha (893383) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287289)

This is sort of like when some technology guys decides that if we can just get computers running Linux into sub-Saharan Africa, we'll save the world.

If your grandmother is on a respirator, the last thing she needs is for someone to interrogate her. She's your grandmother, not a dying secret agent.

Listen, just be with her where she can see you. Read a book. Hold her hand. Talk gently to her. Tell her that you're there. Tell her who is in the room with her. Tell her who is coming to see her. Tell her about news in the family. Tell her what your children have been up to.

You know, things people have done for thousands of years to comfort their loved ones who have fallen ill?

Turn off your ipod and your blackberry and think a little, man. Technology may not cause cancer, but apparently it has an affect on common sense.

Chart and pointer (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287467)

Keep it low tech. You can give her a very bright laser pointer (or a telescopic antenna pointer if she is too shaky for a laser) with a wrist strap. A white board on the wall or tri-pod, with some markers so you and others can write common requests/demands/answers on it. A hospital may already have a printed wall chart exactly for this purpose.

Ask the Chaplain (1)

jfmiller (119037) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287803)

There are a lot of good suggestions in the thread, and I agree the simplest are the best. Another suggestion is to seek out the Hospital Chaplain -- even if you and/or your grandmother are not religious. Most likely, they will have dealt with this kind of situation. They will be able to help you and your grandmother talk (not just communicate. And unlike anyone else you will meet in the hospital, can probably invest some serious time helping you.


Find a good lipreader (1)

awtbfb (586638) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287845)

I have an oral deaf friend (lipreads and speaks) who regularly interprets at her local hospital in this sort of scenario. I think she even did a research project on this topic.

Depending on where you are, you might be able to find a non-professional who is willing to help out once in a while. The hospital's interpreter service might be a good place to start. If they don't have an explicit person with this skill sometimes oral interpreters are decent lipreaders. Note that I'm stressing "oral" - these are not the same as a sign interpreter and companies and hospitals usually botch this distinction.

Other than that, you can try contacting an Option School [] to see if they know anyone in the community.

On a completely different note, there may be someone in the Rehabilitation department of the hospital who has Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) equipment you can borrow. If she has use of her hands, this will be better than scrawling notes on a sheet of paper.

Ouija board (1)

cliveholloway (132299) | more than 7 years ago | (#20287867)

Not only can she communicate, she can savor the irony.
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