Do you have an elderly loved one who recently experienced a stroke? If so, you know strokes can come with serious side effects, including speech problems. In this blog, we’ll review how strokes affect language skills and how speech therapy after a stroke can help.
How Do Strokes Affect Communication Skills?
A stroke happens when blood flow toward the brain is suddenly disrupted. There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes result when blood vessels in the brain narrow down, while hemorrhagic strokes are caused by blood vessel ruptures.
Although anyone can be the victim of a stroke, elderly individuals have the highest risk — around 75% of stroke patients are 65 or older. After undergoing a stroke, people may experience symptoms like pain, paralysis, and memory loss. Strokes can also impact the language center of the brain, leading to speech disorders like aphasia, dysarthria, and apraxia.
The most common speech issue caused by a stroke is aphasia. It can be divided into the following categories:
- Receptive aphasia: Difficulty understanding others
- Expressive aphasia: Difficulty speaking
- Mixed aphasia: Combination of receptive and expressive aphasia
In more severe forms of aphasia, stroke survivors may also have trouble writing and reading.
Dysarthria is a disorder that affects oral motor skills by inhibiting muscle movement. While patients can generally understand words and sounds, they’re unable to form these words and speak properly.
Like dysarthria, apraxia impacts motor function. People with this disorder have difficulty coordinating their muscles to pronounce words. However, apraxia is more severe than dysarthria and can affect other physical functions (such as the ability to form hand gestures). Apraxia patients may also have difficulty remembering and comprehending words.
What Is Speech Therapy?
Now that you understand how strokes impact speech, you might be wondering what the solution is. To help improve communication abilities, many stroke patients rely on the help of a speech language pathologist, or speech therapist.
The role of speech language pathologists is to diagnose the exact disorder and then come up with an individualized treatment plan designed to improve language, communication and oral motor abilities. Typically, treatment consists of practicing speech therapy exercises.
What Are the Best Speech Therapy Exercises for a Stroke Patient?
There are several speech therapy exercises, each of which offers its own unique benefits. Here are some top ones for stroke patients:
- Tongue in-and-outs. Sticking the tongue in and out can boost muscle coordination, which improves speech production skills.
- Smiling. The simple act of smiling can boost oral motor skills.
- Puckering. This simple speech therapy exercise involves puckering the lips, which can improve motor control.
- Consonant and vowel pairing. In this exercise, patients write down consonants they have trouble pronouncing and then pair them with different vowels. For example, a patient struggling with “d” would say “da,” “de,” “di,” “do” and “du.”
- Sentence practice. As the name suggests, this exercise involves practicing reading sentences. Patients should start with just one or two sentences and build up over time.
- Board games. Believe it or not, board games are a great way to improve communication and overall cognitive function. This can include any game that involves speaking, reading, or logical thinking (such as Scrabble, Pictionary or Boggle).
To be effective, speech therapy exercises must be practiced on a regular basis and — ideally — under the guidance of a professional speech therapist. Although there are online speech therapy options available, they can’t personalize your treatment or correct mistakes the way a human being can.
Even with regular, in-person sessions, however, speech therapy can take some time to work. Many patients see results after 6 months to a year. While this may seem like a long time, the process comes with many benefits.
What are the Benefits of Speech Therapy After a Stroke?
Here are a few major benefits of speech therapy after a stroke.
The most obvious benefit of speech therapy is, of course, better communication. Whether they’re struggling to understand language or pronounce words, many stroke patients see significant progress after undergoing speech therapy. In addition to improving verbal communication, therapy can assist with reading and writing.
As mentioned above, strokes can inhibit muscle movement. This negatively affects communication and can make it difficult to swallow, causing difficulty eating. As a result, seniors may lose weight. By improving oral motor function and restoring muscle strength, speech therapy can improve swallowing.
Losing the ability to adequately communicate after a stroke can be extremely frustrating. It’s common for seniors to feel angry, embarrassed, and even ashamed about their communication problems. Speech therapy is a great way to increase confidence and help seniors feel more like themselves.
Higher Quality of Life
Proper communication is a vital part of forming relationships and interacting with the world around us. It’s also important for health — for example, caregivers may have a harder time understanding an older adult’s needs if they can’t openly communicate. Improving speech helps seniors connect with others, ultimately enhancing their overall quality of life.
If you’re looking to help an elderly loved one recover communication after a stroke, speech therapy is an effective solution. For the best outcome, it’s important to work with a community that’s dedicated to your loved one’s unique needs, like Riddle Village.
Riddle Village: Speech Therapy Services in Media, PA
At Riddle Village, the best retirement community in PA, our goal is to support residents as much as possible. That’s why we offer a high-quality senior rehabilitation and therapy program designed to help residents recover after a medical setback. Our program, provided by Rehabcare Group, includes the following types of therapy:
During supervised sessions, residents work closely with our experienced physical, occupational, and speech therapists to rebuild strength, cognitive function, and communication skills. For individuals who need rehab but aren’t part of our healthcare center, we offer short-term therapy through Medicare A and B and several HMO/PPO plans. To learn more, please call us at 610-891-3700 or schedule a visit today!