Communication in critical care tracheostomy patients dependent upon cuff inflation: A scoping review

Carla McClintock*, Daniel F. McAuley, Lisa McIlmurray, Asem Abdulaziz R. Alnajada, Bronwen Connolly, Bronagh Blackwood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Objectives: The aim of this study was to synthesise the evidence concerning communication in critically ill tracheostomy patients dependent on cuff inflation. The aim was to identify the psychological impact on patients awake and alert with tracheostomies but unable to speak; strategies utilised to enable communication and facilitators and barriers for the success of these strategies. 

Review method used: This scoping review was conducted using the Joanna Briggs Institute framework and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews. 

Data sources: CINAHL, Embase, Medline, and Web of Science were searched from 1st January 2000 to 30th September 2023 and supplemented with hand searching of references from included studies.

 Review methods: Studies were eligible if they addressed the psychological impact of voicelessness and/or the structure, process, and outcomes of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems, in addition to facilitators and barriers to effectiveness. The population of interest included critically ill tracheostomy patients dependent on cuff inflation, their families, and healthcare workers. Screening and data extraction were undertaken by two reviewers independently. Data analysis involved descriptive statistics and content analysis. 

Results: A total of 23 studies met the inclusion criteria: 11 were qualitative, nine were quantitative, and three were mixed-methods studies. Voicelessness elicited negative emotions, predominantly frustration. AAC systems, encompassing unaided and aided (low-tech and high-tech) methods, presented both advantages and drawbacks. High-tech strategies held promise for patients with physical limitations. Patients equally appreciated the support offered through unaided strategies, including eye contact and touch. Facilitating factors included speech therapy involvement and assessment. Patient-related challenges were the most frequent barriers. 

Conclusion: Facilitating meaningful communication for critically ill tracheostomy patients dependent on cuff inflation is of paramount psychological significance. Whilst AAC systems are practicable, they are not without limitations, implying the absence of a universally applicable solution. This underscores the importance of continuous evaluation, reinforced by a multidisciplinary team. Review protocol registered: 27 July 2022. Review registration: Open Science Framework Registries:

Original languageEnglish
JournalAustralian Critical Care
Early online date15 Apr 2024
Publication statusEarly online date - 15 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Australian College of Critical Care Nurses Ltd


  • Augmentative and alternative communication
  • Critical care
  • Scoping review
  • Tracheostomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency
  • Critical Care


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