Too many times during aphasia treatment, TBI rehabilitation, and treatment for other communication disorders, medical language sounds more like what aliens on Jupiter might speak! We’ve provided a guide to the most relevant medical terms for communication disorders.

Provided are medical term definitions in laymen’s terms for people with communication disorders and their loved ones to understand exactly what is going on.

List of terms – the “alphabet soup” of medical language

  • ADL (activities of daily living) – refer to skills or activities that people perform everyday; often goals for persons with communication disorders include performing ADLs independently (these might include cooking, driving, toileting, bathing, etc.).
  • Aphasia – loss of language (but NOT intellect) after a stroke or brain injury; all aphasias are a little different – it can affect production and/or understanding of language at the sound, word, sentence, and/or conversation level (read more here).
  • AVM (arteriovenous malformation) – a tangle of blood vessels in the brain; these can rupture and cause bleeding in the brain (read more here).
  • CHI (closed head injury) – a type of TBI in which the skull is not damaged.
  • COG (cognition or cognitive skills) – refers to attention, memory, problem solving, and planning/monitoring; it can be affected along with communication disorders, but NOT all persons with communication disorders have cognitive difficulties.
  • CVA (cerebral vascular accident) – stroke (read more here); this can be caused by a clot (material being stuck in a blood vessel that prevents blood from moving past, and thus keeps part of the brain from receiving oxygen) or a hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain); it causes part of the brain to be damaged, which can lead to many physical, emotional, cognitive, and language difficulties).
  • D/C (discharge) – to release a patient from a specific clinical service; you can be discharged from a facility or from a specific therapy.
  • Dx (diagnosis) – either the process of figuring out what’s wrong, or the particular disease or condition that is diagnosed.
  • Dysphagia – trouble swallowing; this is common after strokes as the swallow muscles are powered by the brain, and require a lot of coordination to function properly (read more here).
  • Hemorrhage – bleeding; if this happens in the brain it is a particularly serious issue, as blood is poisonous to brain tissue (read more here).
  • Hx (history) – taking a full history is essential for any healthcare provider to make sure they understand exactly.
  • ICU (intensive care unit) – sometimes after a serious surgery, illness, or injury patients need more significant and closely monitored care.
  • Ischemia – when a blood vessel is blocked by a clot; this causes a stroke if this happens in the brain; the clot can either develop in the brain or can break off from another part of the body and travel through the blood stream to the brain (read more here).
  • NPO (nill per oral) – nothing by mouth, meaning that a person is not safe to have food or medicine by mouth; this can be due to swallow difficulties, gastrointestinal difficulties, or preparation for a surgery or procedure.
  • po (per oral) – refers to whether medication or food is taken by mouth.
  • TBI (traumatic brain injury) – an injury to the head; can be caused by car accidents, falls, or any blow to the head (read more here).
  • TIA (transient ischemic attack) – a “mini-stroke”; these can be warnings of full stroke and should be taken quite seriously (read more here).
  • tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) – this can be injected to help dissolve clots that have caused a stroke; the sooner this is administered, the better, though this is not an option for hemorrhagic strokes (read more here).
  • Trach (tracheostomy) – a hole that is created in a person’s neck that can enable doctors to put in a tube that bypasses the mouth and throat and goes straight to the lungs; it can assist with breathing and getting mucous and other secretions out of the lungs; these may be temporary or more long-term depending on patient needs (read more here).
  • Tx (treatment) – refers to what healthcare professionals do to help you recover.
  • WNL (within normal limits) – means that a particular function is as it should be and operating typically.

Places and organizations – facilities that can help various persons with cognitive & communication disorders

  • Home Health – when health professionals, like therapists, nursing, etc. come to a patient’s home to deliver care.
  • Inpatient – when patients are staying in the hospital to receive treatment.
  • LTAC (long-term acute care) –  the next step down from a hospital that is a good fit for patients who need intensive, specialized treatment for 20-30 days or more.
  • Outpatient – refers to treatment received by a patient who is not staying at a hospital; they come from home to receive this treatment.
  • Short term rehab (short-term rehabilitation) –  a step down from a hospital that is a good fit for patients who need specialized treatment for anywhere from a few days after their surgery, accident, or illness to a few weeks.
  • SNF (skilled nursing facility) – a facility that often has many health professionals on staff, such as speech therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists that can help a patient continue their recovery if they are not ready to go home.

Medical professionals – who are they and how they help

  • Case Manager – often works in rehabilitation and hospital facilities; coordinate all patient care and healthcare professionals working with patients.
  • CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) or PCA (Patient Care Assistant) – takes care of basic, quality of life needs for patients under supervision of a nurse.
  • MD (Medical Doctor) – there are many specialties within the MD field; a few are outlined below that are particularly connected to communication disorders:
    • Neuro (neurology) – deal with the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord; these doctors see patients after strokes or brain injuries..
    • ENT (ear, nose, and throat) – these specialist doctors deal with all issues of the ears, nose, and throat, including swallowing and the mechanics of speaking (including the vocal cords).
    • Gerontology – these doctors work specifically with the elderly and aging.
    • PCP (primary care physician) or GP (general practitioner) – this is your primary doctor you go see on a yearly basis.
  • MSW (Social Worker) – work in many different settings, but their ultimate goal is to coordinate patient care and to assist the patient in finding the most appropriate living situation for their individual needs.
  • OT (Occupational Therapist) – provide evaluation and therapy or compensatory strategies (work arounds) to ensure that patients can function safely and as independently as possible in their activities of daily living.
  • Pharmacist – is trained to dispense the correct doses of medications and other drugs to patients based on the prescriptions written by doctors.
  • PT (Physical Therapist) – provide evaluation therapy to ensure that people are moving and functioning safely and to the best of their ability.
  • RD (Registered Dietician) – trained to ensure that patients are receiving the right type and right amount of food based on their individual needs.
  • RN (Registered Nurse) – these are healthcare professionals who have gone through a specific training program to learn how to care for patients.
  • RT (Respiratory Therapist) – specialize in airway management (making sure patients can breathe adequately).
  • SLP/ST (Speech-Language Pathologist/Speech Therapist) – provide evaluation and therapy for language, speech, voice, cognition, and swallowing.
  • VNA (Visiting Nurse Association) – these organizations can providing home health nursing and other services to children and adults.
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