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Clinical terminology made simple: glossary of terms related to cognitive & speech disorders

Sometimes during brain injury rehabilitation, stroke, or aphasia treatment, the clinical terminology that clinicians use sounds more like what aliens on Jupiter might speak! Below is a glossary of terms you might hear – but in layman’s terms – so you and your loved one can understand exactly what is going on.

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

  • ADL (activities of daily living) – refer to skills or activities that people perform every day; 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 the 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.
  • 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.
  • Hemorrhage – bleeding; if this happens in the brain it is a particularly serious issue, as blood is poisonous to brain tissue.
  • Hx (history) – taking a full history is essential for any healthcare provider to make sure they understand exactly.
  • ICU (intensive care unit) – sometimes after 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 bloodstream 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 swallowing 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.
  • TIA (transient ischemic attack) – a “mini-stroke”; these can be warnings of full stroke and should be taken quite seriously.
  • 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.
  • 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 help people with cognitive & speech 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.

Clinical professionals – who are they and how they help

  • Case Manager – often works in rehabilitation and hospital facilities; coordinates 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 the 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) – deals 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) – works in many different settings, but their ultimate goal is to coordinate patient care and assist the patient in finding the most appropriate living situation for their individual needs.
  • OT (Occupational Therapist) – provide evaluation and therapy or compensatory strategies (workarounds) 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) – provides 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) – specializes 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 provide home health nursing and other services to children and adults.
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