Judi Wasserman touched an app on her iPad screen and a video of a woman’s mouth appeared.
“Press lips firmly together for three seconds and then relax,” said a voice emanating from the iPad. “One … two … three … relax.”
The mouth followed each command and relaxed on cue. Exercise completed.
The oral motor exercise is one of many iPad options that Wasserman, a speech therapist at the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center of the Jewish Association on Aging, uses to assess and treat her patients. She has been using an iPad in her work for six months to help patients with a variety of conditions.
In fact, all four speech therapists — three inpatient, one outpatient — now use iPads in their work.
“This is the way of the future,” Wasserman told the Chronicle, “and we all ought to jump on the bandwagon to help people as much as possible. To not use it as a tool is just shortsighted.”
She said the speech apps available on iPad are easy for her patients, not as confusing as some of her older tests that often came with more written instructions, plus the technology behind the apps impresses her patients and perhaps encourages them to take them more seriously.
“Instead of just looking at me, looking at this, it [the iPad] makes [the exercises and tests] look more official, I guess,” she said. “I’m still there, I’m still cuing them and showing them what do and explaining what the purpose is, but at the same time it works; it’s me working with the computer.”
Until now, Wasserman said in an interview with the Chronicle, she has only been utilizing free apps that exercise a patient’s speech-related muscles, assess their cognitive skills and enhance their quality of life.
She gave one example of using her iPad to help a dementia patient to Skype with her son, who lives in Florida.
“Literally, she was kissing the iPad; it was so special that she was able to visualize her son,” Wasserman said. “To me, that’s improving quality of life.
“I’m learning all the time [about the iPad],” she continued. “I try and go to the Apple Store and try and learn more how to use it. It’s been a work in process for me because I’m not the most tech savvy person, but even I have been finding many applications to use in treatment as well as an assessment tool and improving quality of life within receptive and expressive language skills.”
She said there are plenty of speech and language apps that can be purchased, some of which can get expensive. She’s been experimenting with some of the apps before approaching her superiors about acquiring them.
Her director told her he would work with her to find funding. Already, though, substantial funding for iPad use has been found.
Rabbi Eli Seidman, director of pastoral care, said Wasserman’s iPad was purchased with funding from the JAA Ladies Auxiliary, and he used money from his own discretionary fund to purchase tablets for the center’s other three speech therapists.
Using iPads for speech isn’t just a Pittsburgh development. In fact, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association is encouraging use of apps and mobile devices, spelling out their advantages (and some disadvantages) on its website and linking to sources for funding and other information.
Wasserman said the devices, by virtue of their sophistication, make her patients feel more comfortable with the problems they’re trying to overcome.
“Sometimes some of the things we do are abstract. … This makes it more official and like ‘oh there’s a whole application for this so it must mean that it’s not just Judi Wasserman coming in telling me this will help me, but there are a lot of people who worked hard to create this,’” Wasserman said.
“And people just take it more seriously and I think that’s an important thing. Mindset to what we do is very important — mindset, motivation encouragement — the feeling you’re too weird or strange, that other people do this too … I’m not alone in the world.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)