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What causes speech impairment? 12 possible conditions

What Is Adult Speech Impairment?

Adult speech impairment includes any symptom that causes an adult to have difficulty with vocal communication. Such problems may include slurred, slowed, hoarse, stuttered, or rapid speech. Other symptoms may include stiff facial muscles, drooling, poor accessibility of words, and sudden contraction of vocal muscles.

If you experience a sudden onset of speech impairment, seek medical care right away. This may indicate a serious underlying condition.

Common Types of Speech Impairment

Speech impairments may be present in different forms. Adult-impaired speech is a symptom of several different speech disorders. They include:

  • spasmodic dysphonia: identified by involuntary movements of the vocal cords when speaking. Your voice may be hoarse, airy, and tight
  • aphasia: the inability to express and comprehend language. Individuals with aphasia may find it difficult to think of words. They may also mispronounce words
  • dysarthria: weak vocal muscles. These weak muscles cause slurred and slow speech. The larynx (voice box) and vocal cords have difficulty coordinating to make a fluent sound
  • vocal disturbances: any factor that changes the function or shape of your vocal cords can cause changes in the sound and ease of speech

Causes of Speech Impairment

Speech impairment can occur suddenly or can gradually progress. Each speech impairment type has a different cause, which is what sets it apart.

Spasmodic Dysphonia

This is abnormal brain functioning. Though scientists are not sure, it is believed this condition originates in the basal ganglia (part of the brain that controls muscle movement in the body).


Brain damage from a stroke or blood clot is a common cause of aphasia. Other causes include:

  • head trauma
  • brain tumor
  • cognitive degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia


Degenerative muscle and motor conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and Parkinson’s disease may cause this condition. Other causes may include:

  • stroke
  • head trauma
  • brain tumor
  • Lyme disease
  • drinking alcohol
  • facial weakness, such as Bell’s palsy
  • tight or loose dentures

Vocal Disturbances

  • Throat cancer can affect the sound of the voice.
  • Polyps, nodules, or other growths on vocal cords can cause vocal concerns.
  • Heavy use of the voice can cause a hoarse voice, as in the case of a singer, performer, or coach.
  • Ingestion of certain drugs, such as caffeine, antidepressants, and amphetamines can cause a dry, tight voice.

Emergency Issues

If there is a sudden onset of impaired speech or any impairment that you cannot readily explain, seek medical assistance right away. Though rare, such situations may be due to a life-threatening condition, such as a stroke.

Treatments for Speech Impairment

The treatment of speech impairment will depend on the cause. Usually, it will involve medical and home care treatment.

Home Care Options

Speech impairment can be very trying. It is paramount for family members and loved ones to be patient. Family members should help with communication when possible. Home care options may differ depending on the type of speech impairment.

Always discuss home treatments with your doctor before beginning them.

Spasmodic Dysphonia

Using electronic devices that translate typed messages into verbal communication may ease some frustration associated with spasmodic dysphonia.


Individuals with aphasia often have confusion. Family members can orient the individual several times daily with time and place to help decrease confusion. Limit the amount of external stimuli—an overload of stimuli can potentially worsen confusion. Speak in short, simple sentences for easy comprehension.

An individual with aphasia should carry an identification card with the name of his or her disorder. The person should also have emergency contact information in his or her pocket at all times.


Family members should speak slowly and use nonverbal cues because individuals with dysarthria may process verbal language at a slow rate. Allow enough time for the speech-impaired individual to respond to questions or comments. Provide tools to aid in communication. A pen and paper is a common means of communication.

Vocal Disorders

Limit the use of your vocal cords. This will provide time for your voice to heal or prevent further damage. Avoid caffeine and other drugs that may irritate the vocal cords.

Doctor Care Options

Your physician may take a complete medical history and evaluate your symptoms. To diagnose the type of speech impairment and the cause, your doctor may conduct several different tests including:

  • brain scans such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs
  • electrical current tests
  • blood tests
  • urine tests

Your doctor also may ask a series of questions to hear your speech. These questions can also help determine your level of comprehension and whether the condition is only affecting the vocal cords, or if it is also affecting your brain.

Your doctor may refer you to a speech therapist regardless of the type of speech impairment. Working with a speech therapist helps strengthen the vocals cords, improve articulation, and increase control of the vocal muscles.

Additionally, individuals with spasmodic dysphonia may undergo botulinum toxin injections into their vocal cords to prevent spasms. Rarely, individuals with vocal disorders may need surgery to remove any vocal cord growths.

Consequences of Untreated Speech Impairment

Unless your impairment is caused by overuse or a virus, it is not likely to remedy itself. If you leave speech impairment untreated, your speech and underlying condition may likely worsen. This is why quick diagnosis is important to allow prompt treatment.

Preventing Speech Impairment

A few prevention methods can reduce your risk of developing impaired speech, as many impairments result from trauma. Some lifestyle habits you can adopt to help prevent the onset of impaired speech include:

  • not overusing your voice by screaming or placing stress on your vocal cords
  • quitting smoking, as smoking is linked with throat cancers
  • decreasing your risk of a stroke by exercising frequently, regulating diabetes, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, and reducing bad cholesterol levels
  • seeking prompt medical help for unusual symptoms
  • limiting alcohol use
  • avoiding vocal-impairing drugs, such as caffeine, amphetamines, and antidepressants

Article Sources:

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Adult Speech Impairment

Speech impairment includes any symptom that causes a person to have difficulty with vocal communication. Such problems may include slurred, slowed, hoarse, stuttered, or rapid speech.

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Hearing Loss

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Schizoaffective Disorder

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Cleft Palate And Lip

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Drug Abuse

Drug abuses occurs when you are not able to control your use of prescribed drugs or are using an illegal substance to the point that it interferes with your ability to function.

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Diabetic Neuropathy

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Brain Aneurysm

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

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Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Mad Cow Disease

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is an infectious disease that causes the brain to degenerate. The hallmark of this brain disease is an inability to think clearly and take care of oneself.

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ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is not contagious. It is a degenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. A chronic disorder, it causes a loss of control of voluntary muscles. The nerves controllin...

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Necrotizing Vasculitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Necrotizing vasculitis is the inflammation of blood vessel walls. It can interrupt blood flow, causing skin, muscle, and blood vessel damage.

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Huntington's Disease

Huntington's disease is a hereditary condition in which the brain's nerve cells gradually break down. This affects physical movements, emotions, and cognitive abilities. There is no cure, but there are ways to cope wit...

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Hepatic encephalopathy is a decline in brain function that occurs as a result of severe liver disease. This causes a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.