Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) affects the nerves and connections that control practically every part of the human body. It’s no wonder then that the disease has such wide-ranging and consequential effects as it progresses.
Slurred speech is a common symptom of ALS and one that is difficult to address. It affects the ability to communicate properly and can be extremely frustrating for someone with the disease as well as those who are caring for them.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the functioning of neurons. These parts of the human body are responsible for transmitting messages from the brain to the muscles. For example, they determine whether you can stand and sit, walk or talk, how you breathe and control other basic functions such as bowel and bladder movement.
Over time, ALS destroys these neurons and that has a huge impact on those who have been diagnosed with the disease. One symptom of the disease is slurred speech and the inability to articulate words. In the later stages of ALS, the ability to talk clearly can be diminished altogether.
The good news is that assistive devices, such as speech software, can help the individual continue to communicate with loved ones.
There are plenty of issues related to speech that may arise following an ALS diagnosis. Whilst being completely unable to speak might be a reality in the later stages of the disease, slurred speech is often one of the reasons why people seek a medical diagnosis in the first place.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis speech therapy involves finding ways to improve speech and communication. ALS is progressive in its nature, so speech therapy is designed to help the patient make adjustments at various stages of the disease to allow them to continue to communicate.
That may mean finding new ways to form words as well as strengthening the vocal muscles to improve speech.
The role of a speech therapist in helping those diagnosed with a condition such as ALS cannot be underestimated.
This is not simply about helping the individual articulate their words better, though there are methods for accomplishing this. Speech therapy is much more widely advantageous in that it helps the patient put in place the right strategies for each stage of the disease.
It might, for instance, involve setting up technology to help with communication, at the point in time when the patient has lost all ability to speak unassisted.
Certain software can be preloaded with the individual’s natural voice and certain set phrases or word combinations added.
In the early stages of the disease, much of the work of a speech therapist is focused on finding ways to cope with reduced muscle function, the slurring of words and being able to talk and be understood for as long as possible.
A speech therapist with expertise in ALS should be able to set goals for each stage of the disease.
This will include developing strategies to reduce the problem of getting tired when speaking and finding technological solutions suitable for the individual during the later stages of the disease.
Setting goals for different stages mean that the individual and caregivers have the right tools at their disposal to help cope with the condition.
It’s important to start seeing a speech therapist as soon as possible to put plans and strategies in place. It’s not easy to foresee what is going to happen once someone has been diagnosed with ALS, but a strategic approach can be vital.
Whilst it might sound a little cold in light of the diagnosis someone has been given, ALS can progress at various speeds and setting out a comprehensive plan of action is essential. In the early stages of the disease, the speech therapist may just be involved in helping maintain vocal strength. In the later stages, they could be involved, along with an occupational therapist, in finding more inventive ways to communicate.
The speech therapist plays an important role in helping anyone diagnosed with ALS to cope with the disease and its debilitating effects. Being unable to communicate effectively can be one of the most challenging aspects of this disease but careful preparation should help the individual stay in contact for longer.