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What ALS is and How it Affects Speech

People with ALS often have difficulty speaking because the disease affects their ability to control the muscles used for speech. However, through speech therapy for adults, people with ALS can learn techniques to make communication easier. This article will discuss what causes difficulty speaking in people with ALS, and how speech therapy can help them communicate effectively.


In this article we will discuss:


Senior suffering from ALS

What is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?

ALS is a progressive neurological disorder that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to muscle weakness and eventually paralysis. It can affect all parts of the body, including the muscles used for speaking. As a result, people with ALS often have difficulty communicating because they are unable to control the muscles necessary for speech.


How does ALS affect the body?

The disease causes muscle weakness and paralysis and eventually leads to respiratory failure. There is no known cure for ALS, and it is typically fatal within two to five years of diagnosis. However, some people with ALS live much longer and a small percentage of people with the disease experience remission.

ALS typically begins with muscle weakness in the arms and legs. This may progress to paralysis of the muscles used for breathing, swallowing, and speaking. As the disease progresses, people with ALS may experience problems with cognition, communication, and swallowing. Eventually, most people with ALS will require full-time care.


ALS Speech Symptoms

Many people with ALS experience difficulty speaking because the disease affects their bulbar muscles. The bulbar muscles are responsible for controlling the muscles used for speech, and when they are affected by ALS, people often have trouble producing sounds, speaking in short phrases, and pronouncing words correctly. As the disease progresses, these symptoms may become more pronounced.

The person’s voice may become softer and harder to understand. People with ALS also may experience changes in their vocal range, such as a higher or lower pitch than normal. Speech therapy can help people with ALS learn techniques to make communication easier.


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Communication Disorders associated with ALS

ALS can also cause communication disorders such as dysarthria and dysphagia.


Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder that makes it hard to move the muscles used for speaking. People with ALS may have a slow, slurred, or labored voice. There are different types of dysarthria.


Spastic Dysarthria

Spastic dysarthria is the most common type of dysarthria associated with ALS. It is caused by muscle spasms and results in a slow, slurred, or labored voice. People with spastic dysarthria often have difficulty producing sounds and speaking in short phrases. They may also have difficulty pronouncing words correctly.


Flaccid Dysarthria

Flaccid dysarthria is caused by muscle weakness and results in a weak, breathy voice. This type of dysarthria is common in people with ALS, and it can make communication difficult. People with flaccid dysarthria may have difficulty producing sounds and speaking in short phrases. They may also have difficulty pronouncing words correctly.


Ataxic Dysarthria

Ataxic dysarthria is caused by problems with movement and balance. It results in an unsteady voice. This type of dysarthria is common in people with ALS, and it can make communication difficult. People with ataxic dysarthria may have difficulty producing sounds and speaking in short phrases. They may also have difficulty pronouncing words correctly.


Dysphagia and ALS

Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that makes it difficult to swallow food, drink, and saliva. People with ALS often experience dysphagia because the muscles used for swallowing become weak and paralyzed. This can make it difficult to eat or drink, and can cause choking and aspiration, a condition where food or drink goes into the lungs instead of the esophagus.


The Role of Speech Therapy in ALS

Speech therapy can help people with ALS learn techniques to communicate more effectively and provide "speaking therapy". Speech therapists can also teach them how to use assistive technology, such as a computer-based speech aid or another communication device, if necessary. Additionally, speech therapists can help the person develop strategies for expressing themselves and communicating with those around them.


What can a speech therapist do?

First, a speech therapist can assess the person’s communication abilities and identify which areas need to be addressed.


For speech, assessment tools include tests that measure expressive language, phonation, articulation, and voice quality. For swallowing, assessment tools include tests that measure saliva control, swallowing capacity and oral-motor strength.


These tests will help the speech therapist identify the person’s deficits and create a treatment plan to improve his or her communication skills. After the assessment, the therapist will create a treatment plan tailored to meet their individual needs. It is important to know their diagnosis in order to create the most effective treatment plan.


The treatment plan

Once any communication disorders are identified, the speech therapist will develop a treatment plan that may include exercises to increase muscle strength and motor speech disorder that affects the muscles used for speaking and makes it difficult to produce sounds.


ALS speech therapy goal settings

Speech Therapy Goals for ALS

The goal of speech therapy for people with ALS is to maintain or improve communication abilities. Speech therapists can help the person learn strategies for expressing themselves and communicating with others. They can also provide techniques for improving speech production, such as speaking slowly and using assistive technology to help produce words.


Strategies to maintain speech abilities for patients with ALS

1. Improving breathing and articulation

Since patients with ALS often struggle with articulation due to difficulty controlling their tongue and facial muscles, speech therapists can help them find ways to improve their breathing and articulation. Breathing is one of the most important aspects of speech, and exercises to improve the quality of the breath can help bolster articulation.


2. Increasing volume and clarity

Patients with ALS may find it difficult to produce loud and clear speech due to muscle weakness. Speech therapists can help by teaching them strategies for increasing volume and clarity, such as speaking in short phrases and using assistive technology.


3. Developing communication strategies

Speech therapists can also help ALS patients develop communication strategies to help them express their thoughts and feelings more effectively. This can include learning how to use alternative modes of communication, such as assisted technology and body language.


Speech therapy can help people with ALS maintain their communication abilities and develop effective strategies for expressing themselves. Through assessment, treatment plans, and exercises, speech therapists can help ALS patients to continue communicating with those around them.


It is important for people with ALS to receive early intervention and to be proactive in seeking speech therapy services. Early intervention can help minimize the effect of ALS on their speech and communication abilities, allowing them to maintain their independence for as long as possible.


4. Swallowing therapy

Additionally, speech therapists may recommend swallowing therapy to help improve a person’s ability to swallow safely. Swallowing therapy can help reduce the risk of aspiration and maintain nutrition levels in patients with ALS, allowing them to remain independent for as long as possible.

Speech therapists play an important role in helping people with ALS maintain their communication abilities and independence. Through tailored assessments, treatment plans, and exercises, speech therapists can help ALS patients maintain their quality of life.


It is important for people with ALS to seek early intervention and ongoing support from a speech therapist to help maximize their independence. With the right care and therapies, people with ALS can continue communicating with those around them throughout the course of the disease.


Overall, the goal of speech therapy for people with ALS is to maintain or improve communication abilities and help the person cope with their diagnosis. With the right support and strategies, people with ALS can continue to communicate effectively even as their disease progresses.


Emotional effects of ALS

Emotional Effects of ALS

The words of someone living with ALS can often be inspiring, and speech therapists can help them find ways to express those thoughts in order to maintain their quality of life. Speech therapy is an important component of care for people with ALS, providing the support they need to stay connected to those around them. With the right guidance from a speech therapist, people with ALS can continue communicating with ease.

The emotional and physical toll of ALS can be overwhelming, but speech therapy can help people with the disease maintain a sense of connection to those around them. Through tailored assessment, treatment plans, and exercises, a speech therapist can help patients manage their symptoms and continue communicating effectively. For those living with ALS, speech therapy is an invaluable tool for maintaining both independence and quality of life.

By seeking early intervention and ongoing support from a speech therapist, people with ALS can maximize their communication abilities throughout the course of the disease. With tailored therapies and strategies, they can continue connecting to those around them even as their condition progresses. Speech therapists play an invaluable role in helping people with ALS stay connected during difficult times, helping them to maintain their independence and quality of life.


At Better Speech we know you deserve speech therapy that works. We have experts in your needs and assign the right therapist, not just the therapist that happens to be in your area. Having Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis can be difficult, but with the right support, you or your loved one can learn to lead a happy and successful life. At Better Speech, we offer online speech therapy services convenient for you and tailored to your child's individual needs. Our services are affordable and effective - get Better Speech now.


 

About the Author

Mikee Larrazabal


I am a Speech-Language Pathologist with 14 years of experience working with children and adults who have communication difficulties. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science at Cebu Doctors' University and have been helping people overcome their communication challenges ever since.


I have worked with individuals of different ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adults and seniors. I'm passionate about speech therapy and take great satisfaction in helping people overcome their communication challenges and improve their lives through better communication skills. In my spare time I like reading books, going hiking in nature and taking care of my dog Locas.

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