When a blood vessel supplying the brain with nutrient-rich blood and oxygen bursts or is blocked, this means that a stroke has occurred. Brain cells could then fail, which affects a person's ability to recognize people, think, feel, move or speak.
The time it takes for patients to recover depends on the number of brain cells affected. There are those who have suffered from minor stroke and are able to recover right away. Some others have to wait for weeks or months before recovery. There are those whose damages are somewhat permanent and irreparable.
If speech is lost, a rehabilitation program conducted by a speech-language pathologist should be started as soon as the patient is able. The therapist will be able to improve a patient's capacity to understand speech and ability to speak.
Common speech impairments after a stroke
Dysarthria and aphasia are the two most common speech impairments due to a stroke. The loss of power to understand or use words is called aphasia. This occurs when the left side of the brain is damaged by the stroke. The brain's left side is where processing of language occurs. Aphasia happens when the patient can understand speech but has trouble talking or the reverse – has the ability to talk but cannot understand what other people say.
Rehab for a person with aphasia consists of language and speech exercises to help the person get back the ability to read and write, speak and understand. This could mean practicing writing and reading, practicing how to follow directions and repeating what the speech therapist is saying.
For stroke patients, group therapy sessions are recommended because these give them more opportunities to practice talking with other people who are also recovering from the same ailment. In some cases, a therapist may also recommend a speech-generation or voice-output device to help the patient with daily communication.
Dysarthria is a condition when the stroke has weakened the muscles of the lips, the palate and the tongue – the parts of the mouth that help people speak. In this case, the person can form proper words and understand speech in his mind, but is unable to utter the words. However, most of them are able to write their thoughts on paper.
The speech therapist in this case will get a patient to do exercises to help increase the endurance and strength of the muscles involved in speech. Sessions will also include lessons to improve enunciation, deep breathing exercises before forming words and speaking slowly.
How to help stroke patients with speech impairments
• Attend to their every need. Loss of speech is just one of the many effects of stroke. They might also suffer from paralysis, numbness, extreme muscle pain and many more. Therefore, before starting their road to speech recovery, it is important that their physical health is taken care of.
• Make them feel that nothing has changed, and that they are still loved in the same way like before. Suffering from stroke can be very depressing. Imagine being able to do things normally one day and in just a split second, things totally change. Some individuals might have even been very healthy prior to a stroke and then suddenly, they can no longer do the things they normally do. Therefore, they need understanding, patience, and love.
• Don’t force them to start speaking again when they can’t. Their oral muscles might still be too painful or they might just have no capacity to speak at all due to their impaired brain cells. Therefore, you need to let them start practicing how to speak again with a speech therapist once they are already prepared.
• Make sure to use visual aids and materials that can make them associate or remember things. Sometimes, they don’t just lose their speech but also their memory. Therefore, if they see items that make them recall certain things or events in the past, their recovery becomes a lot faster.
• Use instructional materials. They can be in the form of CDs, DVDs or apps such as Name That!, which is a virtual flash card, to help facilitate learning. In fact, these materials can be played even when they are alone. Thus, you don’t have to be there to teach them how to speak all the time.
Speech recovery might be a long and difficult process. But with patience, time, language and speech therapy sessions and positive encouragement, things will be better.