Do you have an elderly loved one who is struggling with their communication skills? If so, you’re not alone. It’s common for older adults to develop health issues that negatively affect speech and verbal abilities. Oftentimes, these communication problems are a natural side effect of aging. In some cases, however, they may indicate a more serious health problem. Let’s take a closer look at common speech problems in the elderly and the treatments available.

Senior woman covering her mouth concept image for Speech Problems in the Elderly.

What Are Symptoms of Age-Related Speech Changes?

Speech problems often progress and become more pronounced as time goes on. However, in the early stages, they may not be very noticeable. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your loved one and look out for signs. Common symptoms include:

  • Voice changes
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Trouble with certain words
  • Hearing loss
  • Cognitive changes

Sudden changes in an elderly person’s voice, such as increased hoarseness, changes in voice patterns, or slurred speech are key indications of speech problems. These signs may be accompanied by more subtle symptoms, like trouble consuming food or struggling with certain pronunciations.

Another sign to look out for is hearing loss. When an elderly person loses their hearing abilities, it can affect their capacity to process words and communicate. Most notably, it affects speech comprehension.

Finally, keep an eye out for any changes in cognitive skills. Things like memory loss make it harder to understand words, sentences, and general grammar, which consequently impacts communication. Cognitive changes also affect confidence, which may discourage seniors from speaking.

What Causes Speech Difficulties in the Elderly?

Now that you know the symptoms of speech problems, you might be wondering what causes them. As mentioned earlier, these difficulties are often a normal part of the aging process. Over time, vocal cords naturally lose elasticity, making it harder to speak effectively. However, in more serious cases, they may be the result of medical or cognitive factors. Possible causes include:

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Strokes
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease

TBI and other neurological injuries often affect the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain responsible for essential functions like thought, emotions, behaviors, language, and speech. After sustaining an injury, individuals typically struggle with semantic processing, or understanding the meaning of words. They may also develop speech disorders like apraxia, which affects the ability to form words and sounds. Although TBI can affect anyone, it’s very common in elderly individuals; research shows it’s responsible for over 80,000 annual emergency room visits in adults aged 65+.

Another potential cause of speech difficulties is multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the brain or nervous system. It’s often accompanied by slurred, slow, or weak speech. Generally, MS is diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. In certain cases, however, symptoms may not be noticeable until later in life. When MS becomes pronounced in seniors, it’s known as late-onset multiple sclerosis (LOMS).

Strokes are also a common cause of speech problems. More specifically, strokes lead to aphasia, which impacts both speaking and writing abilities. Like TBI, strokes can happen at any age; however, they’re much more likely to affect elderly people. In fact, over 75% of strokes occur in people aged 65+.

In addition to physical conditions, elderly people are often susceptible to health issues that affect the mind (such as Alzheimer’s or dementia). Diminished cognitive control affects everything from memory and motor skills to hearing and speech.

Senior lady undergoing visual speech perception therapy.

What Treatments Are Available for Speech Problems in the Elderly?

As soon as you notice signs of speech difficulties in an elderly loved one, it’s important to seek treatment. The longer you wait, the worse the problems will get. Whether the speech problems are caused by an underlying health condition or are the result of natural aging, treatment typically includes speech therapy.

During speech therapy, patients work with speech language pathologists to improve their speaking and language processing abilities. This may include physical exercises that build the muscles utilized in speech, as well as mental exercises to overcome any self-esteem issues. Here are some common types of speech therapy:

  • Melodic intonation therapy
  • Visual speech perception therapy
  • Constraint-induced language therapy
  • Group support sessions

Each type of therapy uses its own unique methods to encourage communication and language skills. For example, melodic intonation therapy replaces regular speech with singing and rhythm, while visual speech perception therapy connects words to images. Constraint-induced language therapy, on the other hand, has no visualization whatsoever. Rather, it involves conversing solely through speaking — it doesn’t even use body language.

In addition to specific speech therapy classes, many older adults attend group support sessions. These offer an opportunity to connect with and support other seniors who are experiencing the same issues. Whether you’re looking for high-quality individualized speech therapy or emotional support and socialization, our team at Riddle Village is here to help.

Riddle Village: Senior Rehabilitation Services in Media, PA

At our retirement community in PA, we’re committed to improving the quality of life for seniors and helping them become their best, healthiest selves. That’s why we’re proud to offer senior rehabilitation and therapy programs. Through our partnership with Select Rehab, we offer first-rate physical, occupational, and speech therapy services. Our therapy programs, which have supported the community for over 10 years, include the following features:

  • Supervised sessions with medical professionals
  • Mobility-focused exercises
  • Assistance with daily tasks

All rehab services are available to residents of our health care center. We also provide short-term therapy through certain health care plans, as well as an outpatient therapy program. If you’d like to learn more about our speech therapy services, please call us at 610-891-3700 or schedule a visit today! We’re happy to answer any questions, walk you through your options, and help you find the best possible treatment plan.