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Speaking Out About Speech Challenges

Posted by Lisa O'Neill Hill Jan 29 2016

Montana resident Jerri Thueson had a stroke two years ago when she was 49. It affected her right side and her ability to speak.

“I could barely make a whole sentence,” she said.

Thueson went to speech therapy and found other ways to tell people what she was thinking or what she needed. She practiced using an app on her iPad.

Speech challenges after stroke are common, and there are different types:
 
Aphasia: A survivor with aphasia may have trouble understanding language, talking or may have a hard time coming up with the words he wants to say. Sometimes people with aphasia use the wrong words; it can also affect reading and writing. It does not affect intelligence.

Dysphagia: A stroke can cause swallowing problems, which can cause challenges with speech and with eating. Dysphagia can happen because of weakness and a lack of coordination between the muscles in the mouth and throat.

Dysarthria: This happens when muscles in your lips, tongue vocal folds or diaphragm don’t work the way they need to for clear speech.  A survivor’s speech might be slurred, mumbled, slow or choppy and can be difficult to understand.

Regardless of what kind of speech issue you’re having, there are things you can do.

“One of the things that seems to be overlooked is that there are ways that people can still communicate,” says Kathy Newkirk, a speech language pathologist in California. “Even if a person can’t talk, they might be able to write a message so you can understand or they can point to something on a chart.”

Apps for your phone or iPad can be particularly helpful, she says.

Newkirk recommends getting into speech therapy as soon as possible. If it’s not offered, ask for it. Speech therapy should begin as soon as a doctor clears a patient for therapy.

Every survivor is different, she says. For some, getting back to pre-stroke speech can take years; others come back much quicker. It’s important for caregivers to be involved and be supportive.

“Motivation is a huge issue as is family support. It kind of does come down to the extent they are willing and able to practice and work for it,” Newkirk says. “The brain is sometimes forming new connections. It does take a lot of effort.”

Thueson’s advice to stroke survivors struggling with speech challenges?

“Do therapy. Don’t give up. Plan to stick with it and go to a support group. Mainly, don’t give up.”
 

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