May is National Stroke Awareness month, and the great news is that there are more rehabilitation options than ever for stroke survivors. Some of the most important therapies, in many cases, include speech, communication, and swallowing rehabilitation – which helps many stroke victims regain not only speech quality, but quality of life. These therapies are also useful for a range of other conditions that affect the nervous system and the brain’s ability to communicate with the muscles of the face.
Who Needs Swallowing Therapy?
Swallowing therapy is often essential for stroke survivors and can be highly effective for patients who have multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injuries, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), Parkinson’s Disease, or other conditions that involve damage to the nervous system. The needs and treatment protocols will vary based on the patient’s diagnosis.
Swallowing Therapy Uses
Dysphagia, or trouble swallowing, is a common side effect of stroke and other conditions that can result in paralysis of the throat muscles. Symptoms of dysphagia can include choking on food, coughing, gagging, drooling, and loss of tongue control. Some patients even report choking on their own saliva. According to the National Stroke Association (NSA), speech, occupational, and physical therapy are the most common treatments for stroke survivors who have trouble swallowing, but many patients have also experienced success with electrical stimulation. Programs that include a combination of different therapies can also be useful.
Speech, Occupational, and Physical Therapy for Swallowing
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the best rehabilitation for many disorders is practicing the skill itself. In patients who need help swallowing, this is also true; exercises that require patients to practice the motion repeatedly are often the most effective form of treatment. Therapists often work with patients to develop a program of activities targeting the tongue and lips that are designed to help those muscles re-learn how to swallow.
In addition to supervised exercises, occupational, physical, and speech therapists can also help patients with:
- Changing food textures and sizes to make sure food is easy to swallow, including pureeing or chopping foods;
- Making changes to routines, like alternating small bites with sips of liquid; and
- Changing body position and posture while eating to make swallowing easier (e.g., adjusting head positioning).
Mild Electrical Stimulation and Swallowing Therapy
According to the NSA, some patients with dysphagia experience positive results with neuromuscular electrical stimulation. The use of mild electrical pulses to stimulate muscles is becoming a standard part of many rehabilitation programs for stroke survivors and can have a positive effect on paralyzed facial muscles as well as muscles in other parts of the body.
Speech and Communication Therapy
The loss of the ability to communicate can be one of the most frustrating side effects for stroke survivors and patients who suffer from a range of neurological conditions, but an effective speech therapy program can help patients regain the ability to communicate again.
Speech therapy helps patients manage both aphasia, difficulty finding words and understanding language, and apraxia, the inability to make the mouth muscles do what the patient wants.
Speech Therapy for Aphasia
Patients with aphasia often know what they want to say but are unable to find the words to express it. In some cases, they may even mean to say one thing but end up saying another. According to the NSA, there are many innovative therapies for aphasia, including helping stroke survivors sing words they can’t speak.
Speech Therapy for Apraxia
In the case of apraxia, the problem lies with the brain communicating to the muscles of the mouth. Patients have the correct word in their heads but are unable to move the muscles of the mouth to speak it. As with swallowing, lots of practice is often the best therapy. Qualified speech therapists can help retrain muscles to make sounds using exercises that repeat the sounds over and over.
How Long Do Swallowing, Speech, and Communication Therapies Last?
The length and frequency of a swallowing or speech therapy program depend on the patient’s medical history and diagnosis. In the case of stroke survivors, the muscles of the face may gradually regain movement as the patient’s recovery process moves forward. Talk to your physician or therapist about expected outcomes and therapy duration.
Swallowing, Speech, and Communication Therapies: Finding the Right Partner is Key
When a patient survives a stroke or brain injury, or receives a diagnosis for a condition affecting the nervous system, losing basic functions can be stressful and frustrating – and can often lead to depression. Helping patients regain functionality can boost confidence and quality of life in a very tangible way. The first step to recovery is finding a high-quality inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facility to help you with this process.
Evergreen Health & Rehab works with some of the best physical, occupational, and speech therapists in the region to support the short- and long-term needs of patients. Helping our clients get their lives back on track after a stroke, injury, or life-changing diagnosis is one of our most important roles – and our top-notch team is ready to help. Give us a call today for more details!