Speech difficulties are one of the common complications of a stroke. People who’ve experienced a stroke often have had trouble communicating and using language in the weeks and months that follow. Speech therapy can help.

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The difficulties you experience after a stroke can range from mild to severe, and the exact symptoms can vary from person to person. No matter what or how severe the symptoms are, a speech therapist can help by helping you create and carry out an individualized treatment plan.

Many people make significant progress in the first few weeks. It’s common to see improvements early on and then steady improvements over the first 3 to 6 months of treatment. These first months are when your brain is doing the most active recovery, and they’re generally when jumps in progress are made.

However, the exact time it takes to recover depends on you, your symptoms, and the severity of your stroke.

While people are able to make progress in a matter of weeks, other people have speech difficulties for years after a stroke. Like many post-stroke challenges, the road to language recovery is highly individual. Your speech therapist can give you a better idea of how long your path might take.

A speech therapist will be your primary treatment professional for speech difficulties after a stroke. They’ll develop a treatment plan based on your specific symptoms, needs, and goals. Treatments will be therapy-based and will be structured around you.

Common treatment options include:

  • Programmed stimulation: This therapy technique uses sensory aids such as music and pictures to help build verbal communication skills.
  • Cognitive linguistic therapy: This technique uses emotional responses to language to strengthen language comprehension.
  • Promoting Aphasic’s Communicative Effectiveness (PACE): PACE is a conversation-based model that uses pictures as prompts to build communication.
  • Stimulation-facilitation therapy: This technique helps people who’ve experienced a stroke relearn word meaning and grammar.
  • Group therapy: In group therapy, people who are experiencing speech difficulties can come together to practice the skills they’re building in treatment and support one another.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy allows people who’ve experienced strokes and their family members and caregivers to build communication skills under the guidance of a speech therapist.

It’s common for a stroke to affect the parts of your brain that control speech and language. When brain cells in these regions die, it can cause difficulties with communication. This is called aphasia.

About a third of all people who experience a stroke experience difficulties with speech. Symptoms can be mild or severe, and they can vary depending on the person. Common symptoms include difficulty with:

  • speaking
  • using complete sentences
  • using correct grammar
  • finding the right words to express your meaning
  • forming words
  • forming certain sounds

Sometimes, people who’ve experienced a stroke have difficulty controlling the muscles in their lips and tongue. This is called dysarthria, and it can also make it very difficult to communicate and speak clearly.

A stroke can also make it difficult to move the muscles in your face at all. This is called apraxia. Aphasia, dysarthria, and apraxia can all be treated by a speech therapist.

Speech difficulties after a stroke are generally diagnosed by a speech therapist. A speech therapist is a medical professional who specializes in helping people who are having difficulties with communication, language skills, and swallowing.

A speech therapist can perform an assessment to diagnose speech difficulties after a stroke. They’ll through a list of questions that will test for any speech difficulties and for the level of impairment. This will let you and the speech therapist know exactly how much the stroke has affected your speech, and it will help them start to create a treatment plan.

It’s difficult to predict the exact symptoms someone will experience after a stroke. Many factors that can affect the severity of symptoms, such as the time before treatment, can’t be predicted beforehand.

Additionally, there’s currently no way to say who is more likely to experience speech difficulties or any other specific stroke symptom. However, there are many known risk factors for strokes. These include:

  • Having a family history of strokes: You’re more likely to have a stroke if a family member has had a stroke.
  • Being over 55: Your risk of stroke increases as you get older, doubling with each decade over 55 you reach.
  • Being a man: Men are more likely to experience strokes than women. However, strokes are more likely to be fatal for women.
  • Having a history of stroke: You’re more likely to have a stroke if you’ve had a stroke in the past.
  • Having a history of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs): TIAs are sometimes called “mini-strokes.” You’re at a higher risk for a stroke if have a history of TIAs.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure raises your risk of stroke.
  • High cholesterol: High cholesterol levels increase your risk of experiencing a stroke.
  • Heart disease: Heart disease is a known risk factor for strokes.
  • Arrhythmias and heart structure abnormalities: You’re at increased risk for stroke if you have certain heart rhythm or heart structure abnormalities.
  • Obesity: Obesity increases your risk of a stroke.
  • Lack of exercise: Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle make a stroke more likely.
  • Diabetes: You’re at greater for a stroke if you have diabetes.
  • Smoking: Smoking nearly doubles your risk of having a stroke.
  • Heavy alcohol use: Having more than two alcohol drinks per day can raise your blood pressure. This can increase your risk of a stroke.
  • Illegal IV drug use: IV drug use can increase your risk for blood clots, and that can increase your risk of a stroke.

There is some evidence to suggest that some populations are at a greater risk for a stroke. However, these populations also have a high incidence of stroke risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol diets. Another reason for this may be inequities in healthcare.

Groups at risk include:

  • African Americans
  • people who live in the southeastern United States
  • lower income Americans

Here are answers to some common questions that may help you find out more about strokes and speech recovery.

Do speech difficulties after a stroke affect your intelligence?

No. In fact, for many people, this part of what makes speech difficulties after a stroke especially frustrating. People who’ve experienced a stroke often know exactly what they’re trying to communicate but are not able to get the words out the way they’d like.

Does everyone recover their speech after a stroke?

No. About 21% to 40% of people who recover from a stroke experience some level of permanent speech difficulty. Keep in mind that in some cases, this might be very minor.

Additionally, your recovery will be highly individualized based on the type of stroke you had, your symptoms, and the progress you make during therapy.

How can I communicate when I have speech difficulties?

Your speech therapist can help you find the right tools to communicate while you work on regaining your speech. There are a variety of tools and aids available, including everything from smartphone apps to printable booklets.

A stroke can affect your ability to communicate. A speech therapist can help you regain that ability through a variety of treatment therapies. Speech therapy will rebuild your communication and language skills. Often, significant progress is made during the first few weeks of treatment and continues for the next few months.

However, the path to recovery is highly individual and difficult to predict. Some people experience slow recovery that takes years, and not everyone who experiences a stroke fully regains their speech. Your speech therapist can discuss your recovery timeline and treatment plan with you.