Dysarthria: Did You Know There Is Only One Treatment Option Available?

About 1 in every 10 Canadians suffers from a speech, language or hearing problem. It goes without saying that this puts an extra strain on everyday life. Estimates also show that 4% of preschoolers have a significant speech or language disorder[1]. These difficulties can have a profound and long-lasting effect on their and their parents’ lives.

Dysarthria is considered to be among the most common cause of speech impairment[2]. It usually occurs as a result of brain injury or stroke, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other neurological disease, but there are also genetic factors that can cause it. Because it’s a neurological condition affecting muscular control disturbance, people who suffer from it can very difficult to understand. Dysarthria has five main types and it has been show that the lesion’s location affects the speech characteristics experienced. The cause and the extent damage to the brain or dysfunction can dictate if the symptoms remain stable or worsen over time. Dysarthria can also affect people at all ages.

Speech therapy is the only available treatment for dysarthria. It is important to note that even though results differ depending on the severity of the symptoms; this treatment has improved in many cases the ability to speak. Therapy sessions can include exercises for slowing down speech, improving muscle strength, tongue and lips mobility and breathing exercises. Writing or as of more recently, using technology such as iPads and augmentative reality can also be used as tools in helping improve intelligibility.

Speech therapy sessions significantly improves outcomes

A small group study published in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology reveals the benefits of speech therapy in patients who had weekly sessions. The treatment consisted of a 60-minute warm-up session followed by 60 minutes of therapy session for a month. Following treatment, patients demonstrated substantial speech improvements.[3]

There have been dozens other studies[4] aiming to shed more light on the positive implications of speech therapy. In spite of being the one single treatment that patients can access, a significant part of those studies are either single, experimental cases, or observational among small groups. You can imagine how significant this unmet need is in the dysarthria community and how important is now than ever to raise awareness about research into the benefits of speech therapy.

It becomes even more staggering when you come to think that such disorders in school-aged children are most often diagnosed incorrectly as disabilities or behavioral issues. Delaying treatment makes it more difficult to achieve results or even treat the condition. Shocking numbers show that children diagnosed with simple behavioral problems are 10 times more likely than their peers to be battling a speech disorder, such as dysarthria.

Speech therapy has the potential to significantly improve quality of life. With many patients being unable to live a normal life and perform mundane activities and, simultaneously, many more being unaware of the benefits, more accessibility and availability is needed to fill this gap.