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New Technology Helps Hospice Patient Communicate

Melvin McGill had extraordinary medical challenges when he entered Hospice House last fall with a diagnosis of PLS (primary lateral sclerosis), similar to ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

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New Technology Helps Hospice Patient Communicate

Melvin McGill had extraordinary medical challenges when he entered Hospice House last fall with a diagnosis of PLS (primary lateral sclerosis), similar to ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Melvin’s disease made it difficult for him to communicate with his new caregivers at Hospice House. But thanks to the assistance of a high-tech communication device provided by the ALS Association, Melvin was able to communicate effectively and efficiently. The Dynavox T-15 device, which looks a bit like an IPad, was specifically designed to meet Melvin’s challenges. The device featured photos and icons to represent common phrases and requests he makes, such as what he liked for breakfast. When he touched a button for one particular request, the device’s computerized voice would say, “I’d like two eggs poached, with toast and lots of butter.”

With the help of Melvin’s interdisciplinary team, and Rachelle Westby, an assistive technology specialist with the ALS Association, who trained Melvin’s team on how to use and update the device, Melvin customized the phrases the device could say.

If dexterity ever became an issue for the user, Rachelle said, the device had a function that allowed the user to control the cursor with his head—pointing and moving his nose or forehead to select different icons or phrases.
Tera Gardner, a Hospice of the Piedmont social worker who was part of Melvin’s care team, said he also used the device to Skype, or video-conference, with his family members near and far.
While under Hospice of Piedmont's care, Melvin was fortunate to take advantage of many of our complementary services. A veteran of the Pennsylvania National Guard, Melvin was the subject of a “We Honor Veterans” pinning ceremony during his time at the Hospice House. He also benefited from the Hospice Hearing program that HOP developed with Hearing Healthcare of Virginia—they came to the House and fitted Melvin with two hearing aids, greatly improving his ability to communicate with the staff and his loved ones. Melvin also enjoyed therapeutic music, thanks to visits from Music by the Bedside volunteers, during his time at the House.
“We were really able to utilize every resource we had in our bag with Melvin,” Tera said. “It goes to show: when we can spend time getting to know a patient and their specific needs, we’re able to truly enrich their lives, for a longer period of time, not just in the final days at the end of life.”

Melvin passed away peacefully at the Hospice House on January 15, 2016.

submitted by: Rachael Palm with Hospice of the Piedmont

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