Dysarthria (Slurred Speech)

What Is Dysarthria?

Dysarthria is a condition in which the part of your brain that controls your lips, tongue, vocal cords, and diaphragm doesn't work well. It's hard for you to move those muscles the right way. It’s often brought on by a disease.

Some people with dysarthria have only minor speech problems. Others have so much trouble getting their words out that other people may not be able to understand them very well. A speech-language therapist can help.

Types of Dysarthria

The types of dysarthria depend on the cause or the symptoms. They include:

  • Spastic
  • Hypokinetic
  • Hyperkinetic
  • Ataxic
  • Dyskinetic
  • Dystonic
  • Flaccid
  • Mixed

Causes of Dysarthria

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Causes of this speech problem may include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease
  • Brain injury
  • Brain tumors
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Huntington's disease
  • Lyme disease
  • Medications
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Stroke
  • Wilson’s disease

Dysarthria Symptoms

Depending on the cause, dysarthria can make your speech:

  • Have an uneven rhythm
  • Higher- or lower-pitched than usual
  • Jerky
  • Monotone
  • Mumbled
  • Nasal or whiny
  • Raspy
  • Slow or fast
  • Slurred
  • Soft, like a whisper
  • Strained

Because dysarthria can make it harder to move your lips, tongue, and jaw, it can be harder for you to chew and swallow. Trouble swallowing can cause you to drool.

Determining the Cause of Dysarthria

If you suddenly have a hard time speaking, you might be having a stroke. Call 911 right away. But if it’s been happening for a while, see a speech-language pathologist (SLP). They’ll ask about any diseases you have that could affect your speech.

They’ll also want to check the strength of the muscles in your lips, tongue, and jaw as you talk. They might ask you to:

  • Stick out your tongue
  • Make different sounds
  • Read a few sentences
  • Count numbers
  • Sing
  • Blow out a candle

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You might need some tests, including:

  • Imaging tests like MRI or CT scans
  • Blood or urine tests
  • Brain and nerve tests like EEG or electromyography
  • Brain function tests
  • Spinal tap
  • Brain biopsy

Dysarthria Treatment and Therapy

Treatment will depend on the cause of your dysarthria, the type, and your symptoms. Your speech might get better after you treat the cause.

If you still have dysarthria, you might see a speech-language pathologist who will teach you:

  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles of your mouth and jaw
  • Ways to speak more clearly, such as talking more slowly or pausing to catch your breath
  • How to control your breath to make your voice louder
  • How to use devices like an amplifier to improve the sound of your voice

Your therapist also will give you tips to help you communicate, such as:

  • Carry a notebook or smartphone with you. If someone doesn't understand you, write or type what you want to say.
  • Make sure you have the other person's attention.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Talk face-to-face if you can. The other person will be able to understand you better if they can see your mouth move.
  • Try not to talk in noisy places, like at a restaurant or party. Before you speak, turn down music or the TV, or go outside.
  • Use facial expressions or hand gestures to get your point across.
  • Use short phrases and words that are easier for you to say.

Tips for Friends and Family of People With Dysarthria

Your therapist will work with your family to help them understand you better. They may suggest that your loved ones:

  • Ask if they don't understand something
  • Give you time to finish what you have to say
  • Look at you when they talk with you
  • Repeat the part they understood so you don't have to say the whole thing again
  • Try not to finish your sentences for you
  • Talk to you as they would anyone else
  • Continue to involve you in conversation

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