Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, progressive autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease mistakes healthy parts of your body as foreign and begins to attack and destroy them. With MS, the body attacks the protective sheath that covers the nerves. This sheath is called myelin. As the myelin is destroyed, communication between your brain and your body is interrupted. Over time, the disease may begin attacking the nerves themselves.
The signs and symptoms of MS depend on how severe the disease is and which nerves are affected. Some common symptoms include:
- numbness or weakness in one or more limbs
- double vision or blurred vision
- tingling or pain in the body
- slurred speech
- difficulty swallowing
Speech therapy may help patients learn to cope with or even overcome the last two symptoms on this list.
What Is Speech Therapy?
Speech therapy can help patients improve the symptoms of MS that affect how they speak. Before beginning speech therapy, a speech therapist will evaluate your current speech patterns, the muscular control you have in your face, and your overall oral communication abilities.
How Speech Therapy Helps People with Multiple Sclerosis
Together, you and your speech therapist will develop and utilize a treatment plan that can help you maintain and possibly regain some of your speech abilities. If you develop new speech problems, such as during an MS flare, your therapist will reevaluate your needs and possibly create a new plan.
As the disease develops and worsens over time, your needs will change. Your speech therapist can help you learn to cope with these changes and possibly prevent certain problems.
If your MS becomes so advanced you are unable to speak, your therapist can help you find the right assistive device. These devices range from flash cards with pictures to computers that spell words by blinking your eyes. Your therapist can help locate the right device for you and then train you to use it.
Speech Problems and Multiple Sclerosis
Three types of speech disorders, or dysarthrias, are common among individuals with MS. In fact, 40 percent of all patients with MS have dysarthria, according to a study in the journal Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. These speech difficulties include:
- Slurring – People with MS may not have the muscle strength and coordination to properly enunciate words, so slurring may occur.
- Scanning speech – Speech patterns that are disrupted by abnormally long pauses between words or between individual syllables in a word is called scanning speech.
- Nasal speech – Speech that sounds as though the person has a cold or a nasal obstruction is called nasal speech.
Swallowing Problems and Multiple Sclerosis
People with MS sometimes develop dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, as the disease progresses. Developing dysphagia means you will need more time, effort, and focus when chewing and swallowing foods or liquids. Some people with dysphagia also experience pain with swallowing. Advanced dysphagia may prevent you from swallowing entirely.
For patients with MS, dysphagia can be troubling. People who have a hard time chewing and swallowing have a higher risk of choking on an obstruction. They also may have a hard time eating enough food to maintain proper nutrition and weight.
Making Treatment Plans
If you are experiencing speech difficulties, talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend you to a speech therapist who can evaluate and diagnose your speech problems.
At your first visit, the therapist will want to talk with you about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, how they have progressed, and if anything makes them better or worse. The therapist may also work with your doctor to make sure your symptoms are not the result of another issue, such as a medicine side effect.
Once your symptoms have been diagnosed, you and the speech therapist will begin a course of treatment designed to help you improve your challenges. Not everyone will benefit from speech therapy. Patients with progressive MS may never be able to regain their previous abilities. However, a speech therapist can help you learn to cope with the challenges and difficulties you will face. Together, the two of you can find a treatment and a plan that is right for you.