Learning About Dysarthria

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What is dysarthria?

Dysarthria (say "dis-AR-three-uh") is a disorder that makes it hard to speak well. People who have it understand language. They know what they want to say. And they usually don't have trouble reading and writing. But when they talk, their speech is often slurred and hard to understand.

Dysarthria can be caused by an injury to the brain or a disease of the nervous system. Examples include a stroke, Parkinson's disease, myasthenia gravis, or a head injury. These conditions can affect the nerves that control the lips, jaw, tongue, and soft palate.

If you have dysarthria, you and your family may feel frustrated and anxious. But speech therapy can help improve your speech so that others can understand you better.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of dysarthria depend on what caused it. People with dysarthria may:

  • Slur their speech.
  • Have a hard time saying consonants with enough force to be understood.
  • Speak too fast or too slow.
  • Mumble and run their words together.
  • Be able to say only a few words per breath.
  • Speak too softly.
  • Have a hard time sucking, chewing, and swallowing.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. The doctor may refer you to a speech-language pathologist (SLP).

Your doctor or SLP may suggest other tests to:

  • Find out if you have had a stroke, an injury to your brain, or a disease of your nervous system.
  • Look for a swallowing problem. Sometimes this is done with a swallowing test that uses X-rays.

The SLP will also listen to you talk. They will watch how you say sounds and combinations of sounds. The SLP will also listen to how you pause between phrases, how you put stress on parts of words, and how loudly you speak.

How is it treated?

If a treatable medical condition is causing your speech problem, your doctor will likely start by treating that condition. This may also improve your speech.

If your speech problem can't be solved by treating a medical condition, then there are things your doctor or speech-language pathologist can do to help improve your speech. They may give you:

  • Methods to help make your speech sounds clearer.
  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles of your mouth.
  • Strategies to help you communicate better.
  • A computer or other device, if needed, to help you communicate.
  • A palatal lift. This is a device that looks like a retainer. It supports the soft palate.

Your health care team will help you decide on the best treatment.

What are some tips for coping?

Speech disorders can make it frustrating to talk with others. But there are some things you can do to make it easier.

  • Give yourself time to get the words out. Be patient with yourself.
  • Try to slow down how fast you speak.
  • Be patient with others. If they have trouble understanding you, try again.
  • Use other methods to help listeners understand you. For example, you can use an alphabet board. Point to the first letter of each word as you say it. Or you can try adding gestures or drawing. You might also use special apps on devices such as smartphones or tablets.

How can others help you cope?

Your family and friends can help you communicate better. Share these simple tips with them. Encourage them to:

  • Be patient, understanding, and supportive.
  • Speak directly to you and give you enough time to talk.
  • Limit background and other noises like screens and music.
  • Not correct your pronunciation.
  • Ask you to repeat something if they don't understand. Or make sure you understand what they said by asking you "yes" or "no" questions.
  • Now and then, repeat back what you said. This helps confirm that they understand the message.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.