Several muscles of our face, mouth, and lungs are put to work when we talk. If these muscles suffer damage, talking becomes an uphill task. A person with dysarthria may find it difficult to pronounce words clearly and speak effortlessly.
If you or someone you know is speaking in slow slurred speech, it may be dysarthria. It is a common outcome of a stroke or brain injury.
It can be incredibly frustrating to live with dysarthria or watch someone struggle with this speech motor disorder.
The first step towards overcoming the helplessness and frustration caused by the inability to express one’s thoughts is by learning more about the disorder. Find out all about the causes, symptoms and treatments of dysarthria in adults and children right here!
- What is dysarthria?
- What are the different types of dysarthria?
- How is dysarthria different from aphasia and apraxia?
- Is dysarthria common?
- What causes dysarthria?
- What are the common symptoms of dysarthria?
- How is dysarthria diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for dysarthria?
- How can Stamurai help evaluate and treat dysarthria
- Tips for coping and communicating with dysarthria
- How to communicate with someone who has dysarthria?
1. What Is Dysarthria?
The muscles in our face, tongue, lips, and throat need to move properly to help us talk. When these muscles become weak, talking becomes challenging. Dysarthria can happen due to brain damage that causes weakness of the muscles in the mouth and face.
Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that can range from mild to severe. It can affect several aspects of speech. If you are suddenly experiencing slow, mumbled, or slurred speech, you need to speak to a doctor immediately. Dysarthria can be a result of damage to the parts of the brain that are responsible for muscle movement. Therefore, it often occurs after a stroke or traumatic brain injury (TMI).
Someone with dysarthria may also be unable to control the volume of their voice, quality, and pace of their speech. Since dysarthria involves weakness of muscles, some may also drool while speaking or face trouble alternating between breathing and talking.
2. What Are The Different Types Of Dysarthria?
Researchers and medical professionals classify dysarthria according to the different parts of the brain that have been affected. The classification also depends upon the severity of the damage and the muscles that have been impacted. As a result, there are mixed dysarthrias that have the features of multiple types of dysarthria.
Flaccid dysarthria is associated with disorders arising from the improper functioning of the peripheral nervous system. It can affect the cranial or spinal nerves. Flaccid dysarthria can affect your respiration, articulation, phonation, and resonance.
Spastic dysarthria results from spasticity due to bilateral UMN damage. A strained voice, slow rate of speech, and monotonicity are characteristic features of this type of dysarthria.
Damage to the cerebellum can cause ataxic dysarthria. You may experience irregular errors in articulation, excessive stress on syllables, and inappropriate variation in loudness. Slurred speech and poor coordination may also be present in someone with ataxic dysarthria.
Hypokinetic dysarthria is a result of damage to the part of the brain responsible for coordinating subconscious muscle movements. It is a common manifestation of Parkinson's. Someone with hypokinetic dysarthria may have monotonicity, variable speaking rate, reduced loudness, and breathy voice. Some people may also experience excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing, and muscle spasms/tremors.
Hyperkinetic dysarthria can result from damage to the part of the brain that controls involuntary muscle movements. The defining features include abnormal shaky voice, abnormal resonance, and prosody, prolonged intervals with sudden forced breathing, distortion of vowels, and excessive loudness variation. Physical features may include involuntary jaw, head & face movements, recurring ticks, and spasms of the mouthparts.
Unilateral upper motor neuron dysarthria
The defining speech characteristics include a slow rate of speech with incorrect articulation. The affected person will have a strained voice, reduced loudness, and irregular articulatory breakdowns. Physical features may include unilateral weakness in the lower face.
Mixed dysarthria is a combination of the various types of dysarthria we have mentioned above. These can include flaccid-spastic dysarthria and spastic-ataxic dysarthria.
An undetermined type of dysarthria is when the defining features are consistent with dysarthria, but they do not fit into any of the identified types of neuromotor speech disorder.
3. How Is Dysarthria Different From Aphasia And Apraxia?
Dysarthria, apraxia, and aphasia affect speech. It is easy to confuse their symptoms. The correct diagnosis of any of the three disorders requires observation and assessment by a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP).
Aphasia can also happen due to a stroke. While dysarthria affects a person’s speech, aphasia impacts the way they understand language. Someone with aphasia experiences difficulty in processing and production of language. This disorder may affect a person’s expressive and receptive languages. Aphasia may be a result of neurodegenerative disorders or brain tumors.
Apraxia of speech
Apraxia of speech is a neuromotor speech disorder. Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) is a developmental condition and children may have it since birth. Acquired apraxia of speech (AOS) may happen after a stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), brain tumor, or the onset of a neurodegenerative disorder.
Those with apraxia of speech find it hard to speak. However, the cause is not ‘muscle weakness.’ In this case, the signaling pathway between the brain and the muscles of the mouth becomes disrupted. It affects the movement and coordination of the muscles necessary for producing intelligible speech.
4. Is Dysarthria Common?
Researchers and healthcare professionals don’t yet know how common dysarthria is. It is more commonly observed in individuals who have neurological or neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s, ALS, and Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Around 30% of people diagnosed with ALS also have dysarthria.
5. What Causes Dysarthria?
Dysarthria is a result of muscle weakness caused by damage to the parts of the brain responsible for controlling and coordinating muscle movement. Dysarthria may occur at birth and in that case, it is referred to as congenital dysarthria. More commonly, it occurs later in life due to an injury or illness.
Some of the common causes of dysarthria can include –
- Cerebral palsy (CP)
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Brain tumors or cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Muscular dystrophy
- Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS)
Apart from damage to the brain, dysarthria may also result from damage to the organs involved in the production of speech. Sometimes, people who have undergone surgery on the tongue, head, or voice box may also develop dysarthria.
6. What are Common Symptoms of Dysarthria?
The signs and symptoms of dysarthria can vary depending upon the extent of damage to the brain and the weakness of the muscles. The symptoms can range from mild to severe.
If you have dysarthria, you may experience some or all of these symptoms –
- Slurring of speech
- Extremely rapid or slow speech
- Nasal, raspy speech with a strained voice
- The inability to speak loudly or softly as necessary
- An abnormal rhythm of speech
- Monotonicity of voice and prosody
- Trouble in moving the muscles of the face (lips, jaws, and tongue)
These are some of the most common signs commonly seen in flaccid, spastic, ataxic, and mixed dysarthria.
7. How Is Dysarthria Diagnosed?
The conclusive diagnosis of dysarthria demands thorough testing by a specialist doctor (neurologist) and a speech-language pathologist (SLP).
If you are recovering from a stroke or brain injury, you may already have a neurologist or neurosurgeon you can consult once the symptoms begin surfacing.
However, if you are suddenly experiencing slurred speech and difficulty in moving the parts of your mouth, you should consult a doctor immediately. Although these are all signs of dysarthria, a sudden onset of these symptoms may signify a stroke or concussion. In such cases, you may have to undergo an MRI or CT scan to determine the cause of these symptoms.
The SLP will conduct thorough evaluations of your speaking skills as a part of treatment for Dysarthria in adults. They will determine the severity of the disorder and at the same time, try to rule out any other speech motor disorders that may be causing these discomforts. The tests will assess how well you can move the muscles of your mouth & face and regulate your breathing. The SLP will observe your speech and communication skills at length before they recommend specific speech therapy activities for dysarthria.
8. What Is The Treatment For Dysarthria?
Dysarthria is a treatable and, sometimes, curable condition.
How your doctor can help with Dysarthria treatment
When dysarthria is caused by any medication, tongue or voice box surgery, or dental procedure, it can typically be reversed.
Dysarthria resulting from a stroke or TBI may not get worse over time if the patient receives proper medical attention and care. In most cases, the patient sees a reduction in the slurring of speech and abnormal prosody as their condition improves.
How your SLP can help with Dysarthria therapy
Congenital (due to cerebral palsy) or dysarthria due to neurodegenerative disorders require prolonged therapy. Working with a speech language pathologist may help you or your loved one gain better control of the muscles responsible for speech production.
As a part of treatment for Dysarthria in adults, the SLP can work on the following areas –
- Slowing your speech down
- Teaching you speech therapy exercises and muscle strengthening exercises for dysarthria
- Controlling your breathing and using your exhaled breath to speak louder
- Teaching you to control the volume of your voice through training and Dysarthria treatment exercises
- Saying the different sounds in words, phrases, and sentences in everyday conversations
When the symptoms of dysarthria are so severe that it keeps a person from talking entirely, the SLP may focus on teaching them other ways to communicate. For example, they may teach you how to use sign language, gestures, writing, and electronic devices to communicate. An SLP will also work with the family to ensure easy communication within the household.
9. How Can Stamurai Help Evaluate and Treat Dysarthria?
At Stamurai, we have certified and experienced SLPs who can evaluate the severity of the dysarthria symptoms. Post evaluation, the SLP creates a personalized therapy plan to address the speech and communication challenges you or your loved one is facing.
Stamurai provides complete online speech therapy for Dysarthria treatment. The treatment plan and Dysarthria speech therapy goals for each person are designed keeping their age, symptoms, and severity in mind.
Treating Dysarthria: ages 0 to 3 years
When children are so young, their parents need to work directly with the SLP throughout the course of dysarthria therapy. As the parent of a child with dysarthria, you will need to learn the at-home exercises for dysarthria treatment that you can practice with your child. Daily practice is the only way to improve speech in a child with congenital dysarthria.
Treating Dysarthria: 3 to 6 years
Parents need to attend online dysarthria therapy sessions along with their kids. If you are the parent of a child with dysarthria, who is between 3 and 6-years of age, you can learn some valuable communication skills and Dysarthria treatment exercises during the sessions. Our SLPs strongly encourage parents and children to reinforce these lessons outside the therapy hours.
Treating Dysarthria: 7 years and older
Older children and adults can attend Dysarthria therapy video sessions on their own. Older kids and adults with dysarthria will learn speech exercises and muscle strengthening exercises alongside communication skills during one-on-one online speech therapy sessions. If you are an older kid or adult with dysarthria, you can ask your loved ones to sit with you during these treatment sessions.
10. Tips for Coping and Communicating with Dysarthria
If you have dysarthria, it is normal to feel frustrated, anxious, and angry. Expressing how you feel, what you think, and what you need should come naturally. When that does not happen, negative emotions begin flooding in.
Sadly, no medication can cure dysarthria overnight. However, following these easy tips can help you make yourself more understood –
- Try to mention the topic before you begin talking about it. For example, say "dinner" before you start to say when you want it or what you want for dinner.
- Always double-check with your audience to ensure that they understand you. You can use a simple gesture like a “thumbs up” to ensure correct communication.
- Try to support your speech with relevant images. For example, if you are speaking about your dog, you can show your audience a photo of your dog or any dog before you start describing what they did.
- Whenever you are tired, sit down, and catch your breath before you begin talking. An SLP should be able to show you ways of deep breathing that will allow you to harness the air in your lungs to speak properly.
- If you are getting stuck, try not to talk too loud and too fast. Take a breather. Try to think of simpler and shorter words that your listeners can guess when they don’t understand your speech completely.
Effective communication does not always rely upon eloquent speeches. It depends upon smart tactics. Use sign language, gestures, and photos or images on your smartphone, whenever you feel the need to communicate.
11. How to Communicate With Someone Who Has Dysarthria?
If you know someone who has Dysarthria, do not forget to exercise empathy. The individual can understand you, and they know exactly what they want to say. However, due to their condition, they may not be able to speak properly.
Here are some easy ways to help you understand what they are saying –
- Don’t interrupt when they are speaking. You may not be able to understand a few initial words, but their entire speech may give you an idea about what they are saying.
- If you don’t understand what they are saying, you can politely ask them to repeat themselves.
- If you don't understand what they are saying even after they repeat themselves, you can suggest using a notebook, drawing board, or smartphone.
- Always repeat what you have gathered from their speech to ensure that you have the right message.
- Do not treat someone differently because they have dysarthria. It is a neuromotor disorder and not their entire personality.
- Always ask closed-ended questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" and "no."