One of the most frustrating parts of aging is often the loss of the ability to communicate clearly. So often, our seniors are thinking clearly but for various reasons aren’t able to communicate. One of the most painful results of stroke, injury or illness can a breakdown in communication skills. Leading to frustration and even depression. Fortunately, speech therapy can help with speech and communication after stroke or while living with dementia or other neurological challenges.
What Causes Speech Problems for Seniors?
Some speech problems in seniors are related to damage to the brain, while others have more to do with the ability to move the muscles of the mouth and the brain-mouth connection. Some of the most common speech disorders include problems getting messages from the brain to the mouth (verbal apraxia), trouble finding and/or understanding words (aphasia) and slurred speech (dysarthria). Speech and language therapy can help with all of these conditions.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), some of the most common causes of speech disorders are:
- Stroke: According to the National Aphasia Association, 25 to 40 percent of stroke survivors experience aphasia.
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Brain tumors
- Brain surgery
- Progressive neurological disease, including dementia and Parkinson’s Disease
What Are the Symptoms of Common Speech Disorders?
ASHA has outlined some common signs of the three major speech disorders in seniors. There may also be overlap among the three types.
Signs of Verbal Apraxia
- Having trouble imitating sounds
- Saying something correctly in some cases and incorrectly in others
- Groping for words–or having trouble getting your mouth and tongue into the right position
- Having an easy time with frequently used “automatic” words like hello while having trouble with other words
- In some cases, apraxia can lead to total loss of speech
Signs of Aphasia
- Difficulty finding words
- Speaking in single words or short fragments
- Putting words in the wrong order
- Using the wrong words or incorrectly substituting words
- Using nonsense words
Signs of Dysarthria
- Slurred speech
- Speaking slowly or too fast
- Speaking in a whisper
- Inability to move the tongue, lips and jaw easily
What Does Speech Therapy for Seniors Involve?
The treatment for speech and communication disorders depends on the diagnosis in symptoms. Some strategies may focus more on the mouth/brain connection, while others may involve more work on the mouth muscles themselves.
In the case of verbal apraxia, the focus is on getting muscles to move correctly. May involve repeating sounds and practicing getting the mouth position right. Therapists can also help patients focus on slowing down to take the time to find and pronounce words.
According to ASHA, treatment for slurred speech often involves slowing down speech and helping patients take the time to find and pronounce words, along with making the muscles of the mouth stronger and making those muscles easier to move as patients form words.
According to the National Aphasia Association, there are two main treatment approaches for this condition, and many therapists use both strategies. Impairment-based therapies focus on breaking down the mechanics of language to help avoid frustration and rebuild oral communication skills. This can include pushing patients to find their words, and some therapists have found success with therapies that encourage patients to sing their words rather than saying them. Communication-based therapies focus on working around language issues to help patients communicate in other ways and often involve help from caregivers.
Speech and Communication Therapies at Evergreen
Being able to communicate is key to quality of life as we age. And it’s possible to preserve and improve speech even when stroke, dementia and other factors make communication hard. Making strides in speech can be re-energizing for seniors and offer a big boost to mental health. At Evergreen Health & Rehab, speech and communication therapy is an especially important part of our regionally acclaimed stroke recovery program and our Journey Alzheimer’s care unit as our highly qualified speech therapists work to help clients reclaim their dignity and quality of life every day.