Many people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience speech issues.
Speech problems may occur regularly, or for only a few minutes per day. You may find your speech is slurred, your voice isn’t as strong, or you have challenges talking because your chest feels weak.
It’s common for speech patterns to change, a phenomenon called “scanning speech,” where long pauses create a new rhythm while you’re talking. Some people may also forget words or have trouble following conversations.
In addition to speech problems, some people have difficulty swallowing. These activities use many of the same parts of the body.
Speech issues may happen during any stage of MS, but not everyone experiences them. There are a few things you can try to manage this aspect of the condition, including therapy, technology, and behavioral techniques.
MS is a condition in which the immune system attacks the protective layer around nerve cells. Nerve damage may result in loss of coordination between the muscles necessary for speech. It can also affect the parts of the brain that process language.
Doctors divide speech problems into two types: aphasia and dysarthria.
- Aphasia occurs when something interferes with the brain’s ability to process language. You might forget a word or have difficulty communicating through writing.
- Dysarthria is tied to a loss of motor function or muscle control. This makes it harder to form words. Dysarthria is more common among people living with MS.
In addition, MS can cause you to feel weak or tired. Fatigue can contribute to problems with speech and swallowing. However, swallowing problems may also happen because of dry mouth, a side effect of some MS medications.
Speech problems are quite common among people living with MS. They can happen at any stage and may range from mild to severe.
Speech problems usually come about as a result of other symptoms caused by MS, such as nerve damage, fatigue, and muscle weakness.
Managing MS and working collaboratively with your physician on a treatment plan can slow the progression of the condition. This in turn may reduce the potential for speech issues.
However, someone who does experience speech issues because of MS has many options to improve their experience.
No matter the presentation of your MS, there are ways you can improve your speech. They range from therapeutic protocols to modern technology.
It’s OK to take your time. Rely on others to be patient, so you can speak as slowly as you need.
Take it easy when you’re tired
Fatigue makes speech more difficult. If you’re feeling tired, it’s OK to choose to speak less.
Talk with your body
People don’t just communicate through speech. Remember, you can use gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions, or refer to objects. These options reduce the stress of having to talk if you aren’t feeling up to it.
Type it out
Smartphones and other devices can be useful. You can text, email, or write out phrases. This can help you have longer conversations.
Work with a therapist
A speech-language pathologist is specifically trained to help people with speech challenges. They can offer many kinds of therapy, such as physical exercises to help improve word clarity and voice strength.
Use assistive devices
People who have more severe speech challenges can use amplifiers and text-to-voice devices. These make vocal sounds louder or speak on behalf of the individual.
Plan it out
Sometimes it can help to jot down what you plan to say before important conversations. It’s fine if you have to take notes with you to doctor’s appointments, for example.
Check in with others
Communication is a back and forth process. It’s fine to ask the person you’re talking to for confirmation that they understand what you’re saying. Most people are happy to repeat back what you’ve said.
MS can cause numbness in the mouth and throat in addition to the problems with muscle coordination and weakness some may experience.
Numbness in the throat can make swallowing difficult. It can also affect speech. According to MS Trust in the UK, the same issues that affect swallowing also affect speech. Some people have eating challenges, such as problems chewing, feeling like food is stuck in their throat, and drooling.
Many people living with MS experience some changes in their speech. There are a number of ways you can improve your ability to communicate, from specific exercises to technology.
By working with your doctor, you can gain access to resources like speech therapists who may offer additional education and support.