According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the motor speech disorder dysarthria is a condition in which muscles of the face, respiratory system, and/or mouth become weakened, moving either slowly or not at all. This creates slurred, slow, or mumbled speech. Dysarthria’s primary causes are stroke, brain damage, muscular dystrophy, and cerebral palsy.
Depending on severity, a speech pathologist may be able to help someone with dysarthria communicate more easily and fluently. Read on to learn about symptoms, treatments, and how to better communicate with someone suffering from dysarthria.
Dysarthria has a number of causes. Among them are stroke, head injuries, some types of medications, brain tumors, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
Depending on the location and severity of the damage (i.e., on one side of the mouth, in the respiratory system, or somewhere else in the facial muscles), people with dysarthria show a range of symptoms and speech impairments. Their speech may just be somewhat slurred, or they may sound hoarse or breathy when they talk. They may speak at a slower rate than normal, or they may speak very quickly in a mumbling, inarticulate voice. Limited tongue, jaw, or lip movement may affect their pronunciation or intonation.
A speech-language pathologist will be able to work with the patient to determine what kind of speech impairment is present. Speech-language pathologists work with patients with motor speech disorders like this on a case-by-case basis and can give the proper diagnosis for the best treatment.
Treatment type depends on what caused the dysarthria and how severe it is. A speech pathologist will work with a dysarthria patient in various ways – including repetition exercises – to slow or speed up speech rate, strengthen vocal muscles, and to improve intonation, pronunciation, and enunciation.
In severe cases, when speech is not possible or there is no means to improve communication, a speech-language pathologist will work with the patient to adapt them to an alternative means of communication, such as sign language or communication through typing and/or text-to-speech technology.
Speech pathologists can also work with friends, family, and loved ones of people with dysarthria to help alleviate stress that can arise from attempting to communicate with someone suffering from dysarthria.
Communicating with Someone with Dysarthria
As with a lot of motor speech disorders, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that this person’s brain is most likely functioning at the same pace and level as a normal, uninjured person’s brain. This is not a case of cognitive difficulty. However, when we speak with someone who sounds impaired, it is often difficult not to treat them as if they are actually impaired.
Speech pathologists often work with loved ones of people with dysarthria, as well as with the patients, themselves, because it can be very frustrating for everyone involved if the time isn’t taken to understand and communicate properly. While it can be difficult for unimpaired speakers not to treat someone with dysarthria as if they have cognitive difficulties, it’s also very frustrating to the person suffering from dysarthria to be treated as if they have a lower intelligence level than other people in the room.
Speech pathologists recommend, when speaking with someone with dysarthria, that you pay close attention when the person is speaking, watch them as they speak, give them time to formulate their words, and let them know when you’re having trouble understanding something they’re saying.
It’s also recommended that people with dysarthria speak slowly and loudly, and introduce topics they intend to speak on with a word or a short phrase before launching into the details of the topic. If they feel tired, it’s recommended that they keep conversations short and limited, as fatigue can make it more difficult to understand them. If they get frustrated, they’re encouraged to try to communicate by pointing or writing, rather than speaking, as frustration and stress often exacerbate the problem.
If you have questions about speech language therapy contact your local doctor, who will arrange for you to see a speech pathologist. We see adults and children for speech and language therapy. Contact us today!