Communication disorders can have profound effects on older adults struggling with language comprehension and delivery. Aphasia and Dysarthria are two types of common communication impairments that are often the result of a stroke, brain injury or trauma, or a progressive neurological disease, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Both of these conditions make effective communication challenging, making life difficult for the person afflicted. Struggling to understand written and verbal messages, or not being able to adequately express oneself can lead to feelings of confusion, frustration, anger, heightened stress and anxiety, and may even result in depression and social seclusion.
Dysarthria Causes and Symptoms
Dysarthria is a communication condition that is characterized by problems with speech and expression. Individuals typically experience weakening in the muscles that are responsible for speech, or difficulty controlling them. This often results in having trouble understanding what the person is trying to express because of slurred or hindered speech.
Complications controlling muscles in mouth, tongue, and face are expected with dysarthria. Some of the most common causes of the disease, include:
- Brain injury
- Brain tumor
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
Symptoms of dysarthria tend to vary depending underlying causes of the disease and the severity of those issues. Some common symptoms include:
- Slurred speech
- Slow, uneven speech
- Monotone delivery
- Abnormal speech rhythm
- Uncontrollable voice volume
- Rapid jumbled speech
- Raspy or strained voice
- Partial paralysis of tongue or facial muscles
Symptoms of dysarthria can be improved and managed with repetitive language treatment to retrain damaged areas of the brain.
Aphasia Causes and Symptoms
Aphasia is also a communication disorder that is common in people that have experienced brain trauma or are coping with a progressive neurological disorder. The difference from dysarthria is that rather than having trouble producing and delivering speech, the problem is with speech comprehension, and may also include difficulty reading and writing.
The most common cause of aphasia is from brain damage that occurs as the result of a stroke. This damage is caused by either a blockage of blood vessels or arteries in the brain, which deprive the brain of essential oxygen and nutrients, or a burst blood vessel in the brain causing leakage into the brain tissue. The severity of the symptoms depend on the severity of the damage incurred during the stroke.
Brain damage can also be caused by a brain injury or tumor, which can have distinct symptoms like confusion and memory issues. Degenerative brain disorders can result in primary progressive aphasia, which is characterized by the gradual development of language problems. As the language networks in the brain deteriorate, so too does the ability to effectively communicate. Aphasia can even occur as a temporary condition, as the result of severe migraines or seizures.
Symptoms of aphasia are typically marked by difficulty comprehending spoken and written language. Some prevalent symptoms are:
- Not being able to follow or contribute to a conversation
- Speaking in incomprehensible sentences
- Using unrecognizable or made up words
- Speaking or writing in incomplete sentences
- Substituting incorrect words and sounds
Dysarthria and Aphasia Management
There are several suggestions and approaches that can be helpful for people with communication problems, to improve language comprehension and speech delivery.
For family members and caregivers that are assisting with recovery from a brain injury or stroke, there are some helpful practices that can help you become more effective in treatment, to help improve language abilities.
Some useful suggestions include:
- Educating yourself about the condition to apply it to the specific situation
- Experiment with various language rehabilitation techniques to see what works
- Slowly attempt to ramp up social interaction and activity – nothing too stressful
- Use a variety of communication styles – speaking, writing, drawing, actions, using images
- Enlist as much assistance and support as possible
Applying Language Improving Techniques
When you are comfortable with your level of knowledge about the nature of the condition, you can start implementing some useful language recovery techniques.
This may include:
- Paraphrasing and rephrasing sentences and questions until comprehension is reached
- Keeping topics and sentence structure simple to avoid confusion and frustration
- Emphasize points with hand gestures and actions
- Choose a quiet environment with no distractions
- Provide as much context and background as possible before introducing a point
- Patience is crucial; exercise as much patience as possible