Dysarthria is an umbrella term that encompasses a group of speech disorders resulting from muscle weakness. This speech disorder may make it difficult for an individual to talk.
Understanding Dysarthria – The Types of Dysarthria
If you are facing problems pronouncing words or speaking in normal prosody, you may have dysarthria. While some types of dysarthria are present from birth, it is possible for adults to experience sudden weakness in the muscles involved in speech resulting in the speech disorder.
Experts have identified different types of dysarthria depending upon the symptoms and the locus of the disorder.
- Flaccid - Flaccid dysarthria is associated with the disorders of the muscles and/or lower motor neuron system
- Spastic - It is associated with disorders of the upper motor neuron system
- Ataxic - This type of dysarthria is associated with the disorders of the cerebellar control circuit
- Hypokinetic - Hypokinetic dysarthria is associated with the disorders of the basal ganglia control circuit
- Hyperkinetic - The hyperkinetic type of dysarthria is associated with the disorders of the basal ganglia control circuit
- Unilateral upper motor neuron - This type is linked to the unilateral disorders of the upper motor neuron system
- Mixed - It is a combination of the various types of dysarthria discussed above
- Undetermined - The signs & symptoms are consistent with dysarthria, but it doesn’t fit into any of the identified types of the speech disorder
What Are Leading Signs Of Dysarthria?
Depending on the extent of damage to the brain or weakness of the muscles, the signs of dysarthria can be mild or severe. A person with dysarthria may experience –
- Slurred speech
- Extremely rapid or slow speech
- Inability to speak loudly or lower their voice
- Raspy, nasal speech with a strained voice
- Abnormal speech rhythm
- Monotonic voice and prosody
- Difficulty in moving facial muscles (lips, tongue, and jaws)
Each sign may not be present in an individual with dysarthria. However, these are some of the most prevalent signs present in central, peripheral, developmental, and acquired dysarthria.
What Are the Leading Causes Of Dysarthria?
Speech disorders due to muscle damage may have several neurological causes. Dysarthria can happen at birth, soon after, or during adulthood. There are several types of dysarthria classified according to the underlying causes.
Here are some of the more common causes of dysarthria –
- Cerebral stroke
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Brain tumor(s)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Cerebral palsy
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Muscular dystrophy
- Guillain-Barre syndrome
How Is Dysarthria Diagnosed?
Testing for dysarthria by a neurologist (doctor) and speech-language pathologist (SLP) is a must for a conclusive diagnosis.
If you have had a stroke, TBI, or brain tumor before the onset of speech issues, you may already have a neurologist or neurosurgeon you can consult about your symptoms.
Otherwise, if you are suddenly experiencing difficulty speaking, you should consult your GP and ask for a referral to a neurologist.
Since dysarthria may also be a sign of cardiovascular events or concussions, it is important to explore the causes with an expert.
An SLP can test and determine how your speech and language have been affected. The SLP will observe how your lips, tongue, and jaws move while you speak. They will listen to you say single words, phrases, and whole sentences.
After observation, the SLP will show you different exercises that make speech more intelligible.
Remember, dysarthria is not a speech disorder that can be cured overnight. You have to be patient and persistent to see improvements in your speech.
What Are The Treatments For Dysarthria?
There is no magic cure for dysarthria.
If the cause of (acquired) dysarthria is stroke, brain tumor, or TBI, addressing the causes may reduce the intensity of dysarthria symptoms.
You need to work with an SLP in coordination with your neurologist for the long-term improvement of your speech. The SLP may help you work on the following –
- Slowing your speech down
- Teaching exercises that can locally strengthen your facial muscles (for peripheral dysarthria)
- Using your breath to speak louder
- Learning to speak softly whenever necessary
- Saying sounds correctly in words, phrases, and sentences
- Correctly moving your lips and tongue to produce sounds while speaking
- Learning to use augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) methods to communicate. Such as using signs, gestures, picture boards, or electronic devices.
Tips for Individuals with Dysarthria
Living with dysarthria may feel debilitating right now, but you have the power to take charge!
While there is no medication or exercise to offer you complete control of your speech overnight, you can make small changes that can ensure greater control during a conversation.
Here are some changes that you can implement –
- Say the topic in word or phrase before you begin talking. For example, say "bills" before you start talking about a bill that needs to be paid ASAP.
- Double-check that your audience understands you.
- Complement your speech with images of relevant objects before talking about them.
- Try to catch your breath if you are tired, stressed, or exhausted. Your SLP should be able to show you some smart ways to breathe deeply and harness all that air in your lungs to speak clearly.
- Try not to talk too loudly when you are getting stuck. Step back. Use simpler and commonplace words that your listeners can guess even if they don't understand you 100%.
Are Dysarthria And Childhood Apraxia of Speech The Same?
Dysarthria is a group of speech disorders that makes it difficult to produce speech due to weakened articulator/facial muscles.
Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a neurological disorder that creates difficulty in planning and executing coordinated tasks.
If a child has apraxia of speech, they may not be able to move their lips and tongue in the correct ways to produce speech. It is caused by disruptions or anomalies in the neural pathways involving the planning and production of speech.
Although dysarthria and apraxia result in similar problems in the production of intelligible speech, they are distinct speech disorders involving different causal factors.