Dysarthria (Speech Disorders)

Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder resulting from brain damage. Read on to find out more about dysarthria, and its symptoms, causes and treatment.

What Is Dysarthria?

Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder resulting from brain damage. Speech production is affected when one or more of the speech subsystems are impaired.

The speech subsystems include:
1. Respiration (breathing)
2. Phonation (voice production)
3. Resonance (distinct quality of the voice)
4. Articulation (muscle movements to produce the sounds of speech)
5. Prosody (the musical quality of speech)

Common Causes of Dysarthria

Dysarthria happens when there is damage to one or more parts of the brain which control the speech subsystems. Different sites of brain damage will lead to different presentations of dysarthria. A common cause of dysarthria is a stroke. Other causes include: head injury, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.

Dysarthria Symptoms

A person with dysarthria may exhibit one or more of the following features during speech production:
Slurred speech
Speaking softly or barely able to whisper
Slow rate of speech
Limited tongue, lip and jaw movement
Abnormal intonation (rhythm) when speaking
Changes in vocal quality ("nasal" speech or sounding like he has a runny nose)
Breathiness or hoarseness during speaking

A person with dysarthria may also demonstrate problems with feeding and swallowing, particularly in keeping saliva, solids and liquids in the mouth while chewing or preparing to swallow.

The Risk Factors of Dysarthria

Stroke is a major risk factor of dysarthria. Some risk factors of stroke include:
High blood pressure
Diabetes mellitus
Cigarette smoking
Heart diseases
Previous stroke diseases or TIA (transient ischaemic attack)

Dysarthria Treatment 

Your doctor may refer you to a speech therapist (ST) for a further detailed assessment when signs of speech problems are observed. The ST will determine the nature and severity of any speech difficulties. The ST may look at movement of the lips, tongue and face, as well as breath support, voice quality and other aspects of speech production.

Treatment depends on the cause, type and severity of the symptoms. The ST may use various therapy methods especially tailored for the person with dysarthria, which focuses on his strengths and weaknesses. Some people with dysarthria may recover spontaneously without treatment. This may happen when the brain heals naturally, which mostly occurs months after brain damage.

Goals of Dysarthria Treatment 

Possible goals of dysarthia treatment may include:
Strengthening jaw, tongue or lip muscles used for speech production
Increasing breath support so the person can speak more loudly
Improving articulation so that speech is clearer
Teaching caregivers and family members strategies to facilitate communication with the person with dysarthria

In severe cases, alternative communication methods, such as simple gestures, alphabet boards, or electronic or computer-based equipment may be taught to the affected person and/or his caregivers and family members.

Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT®)

The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT®) is offered to people with Parkinson’s disease for speech/voice training. This intensive treatment programme is only carried out by certified STs. The programme aims to improve voice components, such as loudness, pitch and quality by putting in increased effort during speaking.

Dysarthria: How to Help Yourself

As stroke is one of the main risk factors of developing dysarthria, taking steps to prevent stroke will in turn help reduce the risk.

If you are diagnosed with dysarthria, it is important to carry out exercises or strategies given by the ST regularly in order to see improvement in speech production.

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