Overcoming speech impediments

Image: Overcoming speech impediments

In this edition of Wellness Wednesdays, we look at six health issues that most commonly contribute to speech impediments among seniors, and tips for overcoming challenges associated with speech impediments and communication disorders.

What are speech impediments?

Speech impediments are a type of communication disorder where normal speech is disrupted. They can affect anyone, however, seniors are especially prone to ailments that can negatively impact their speaking abilities.

6 health issues commonly linked to communication disorders in seniors:

  • Aphasia- Aphasia is a disorder that impairs one’s ability to use and understand language. The leading cause of aphasia is stroke, and one in four people who have a stroke will develop aphasia according to the National Stroke Association. Aphasia may cause you or your loved one difficulty in speaking and/or understanding speech, and difficulty with reading and writing.
  • Hearing Loss- Seniors who have difficulty hearing often report communication problems resulting from not only their inability to hear what another individual is saying, but also because of difficulty thinking or concentrating. This can lead to signs of inattentiveness, distraction and boredom, all of which make communication more difficult for a senior.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)- Multiple sclerosis can cause difficulty with both speech and understanding. Prevalent among people with MS is problems with swallowing, which can cause difficulty when trying to speak. A person with MS may not even notice his or her own speech problems, as they are quite often noticed by others first. Cognitive problems associated with MS can impede an individual’s understanding as well, which can hinder their ability to communicate.
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)- ALS is a progressive, disabling disease that can sometimes cause difficulty swallowing and speaking. As the disease progresses, communication can often become more difficult.
  • Parkinson’s Disease- In those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, damage to a region of the brain called the basal ganglia often causes speech problems. Typical symptoms include voice change, problems with articulation, and reduced fluency.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Types of Dementia- Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementias can hinder communication and understanding when areas of the brain responsible for speech and comprehension are affected. Difficulty when it comes to remembering details, which is a commonly associated symptom of Alzheimer’s, can also make it more difficult to communicate effectively.

Tips for overcoming challenges associated with speech impediments/communication disorders:

If you or your loved one has a speech impediment or suffers from a communication disorder, you/they should consider:

  • Using props to make conversation easier
  • Drawing or writing things down on paper when possible
  • Taking your/their time when trying to communicate
  • Creating a communication book that includes words, pictures and symbols that are helpful in communicating your/their thoughts
  • Using the internet to connect to people via email or chat
  • Working with a speech language pathologist to mitigate your/their speech problems
  • Using hearing aids if your/their speech problems are associated with hearing loss
  • Educating family members and friends on active listening to help them better understand you/your loved one
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Using shorter and simpler words and sentences to decrease your/their likelihood of stumbling on your/their words
  • Repeating yourself/themselves when necessary
  • Expressing yourself/themselves through actions and emotions rather than words
  • Learning sign language