Health & Medicine

Speech therapy can help those with head, neck injuries

Kristin Ernst
Kristin Ernst

Communicating effectively is key to our everyday lives, but for those affected by head and neck injuries, the ability to communicate can become a challenge. It’s estimated that about 40 million Americans have communication disorders.

Speech therapy can help those who have experienced stroke, certain cancers, neurological disorders, developmental disabilities, and head or neck injuries. These individuals may suffer from communication disorders such as aphasia, dysarthria and apraxia of speech.

Aphasia is a communication disorder that results from damage to the parts of the brain that control language, and can affect your ability to speak, write and understand language. It is often a result of a stroke, a traumatic brain injury, a brain tumor, or progressive neurological disorders.

Aphasia can range from mild to severe. A person with aphasia may have difficulty understanding as well as forming words or sentences, may be unaware the words they are producing are incorrect or don’t make sense, or may know what they want to say but are unable to accurately produce the correct word or sentence.

A speech-language pathologist will work with a patient with aphasia to improve speaking, understanding, reading and writing skills, and to increase effectiveness with real-life communication challenges. Therapy sessions can be private or can occur in a group-like setting to facilitate a more natural communication environment; or even via a computer.

Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder, which can cause slurred or choppy speech that is difficult to understand, a slow or rapid rate of speech, limited tongue, lip and jaw movement, changes in voice quality, and abnormal voice pitch and rhythm.

The condition occurs when the muscles used for speech production are impaired. Dysarthria can be caused by damage to the brain and can be a result of cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, tumors, Huntington’s disease or multiple sclerosis.

A speech-language pathologist will work with the patient to improve breath support, increase tongue and lip movement, and slow the rate of speech. In severe cases, the patient will learn to use alternative means of communication, including alphabet boards, electronic or computer-based equipment, or gestures.

Apraxia of speech is another motor speech disorder, which can occur in conjunction with dysarthria or aphasia. It occurs when messages from the brain to the mouth are disrupted, so those affected cannot move their lips or tongue to properly produce sounds. Apraxia of speech is caused by stroke, traumatic brain injury, dementia, brain tumors and progressive neurological disorders.

A speech-language pathologist will work with the patient to retrain the individual to produce sounds correctly. The individual may be asked to repeat sounds to practice correct mouth movements.

If you have suffered a stroke, neurological disorder, or a head or neck injury, consult a speech-language pathologist to be evaluated, so that you can begin the best treatment option for your condition.

Kristin Ernst is a speech-language pathologist at Saint Joseph East, part of KentuckyOne Health.