Speech Therapy (ST) aims at helping stroke survivors relearn forgotten speech function or develop alternative means of communication. Intensive exercises such as repeating certain words, a few reading or writing exercises, conversational rehearsals and the development of prompts or cues are often included in the stroke survivor’s rehabilitation program.
Apart from improving speech and linguistic abilities, ST also helps people improve their swallowing after a stroke. Some stroke survivors develop an inability to manipulate food with the tongue and detect food that is stuck in the cheeks after swallowing. Speech-language experts help the individual reduce delayed swallowing reflex and improve the patient’s posture during eating.
How does Speech Therapy work?
During a stroke, an artery in the brain gets blocked or bursts due to the lack of oxygen supply. This, in turn, can cause physical and communication-related impairments in stroke survivors. Aphasia is one such communication disorder that is a result of damage to the parts of the brain that control language. Aphasia can affect an individual’s speaking, understanding and reading/writing competency. This could be further complemented by Dysarthria (slurred speech) and Apraxia (difficulty planning motor movements to form sounds and words).
A speech-language therapist conducts initial assessment for stroke survivor to determine a baseline and treatment goals. An individualized treatment plan is created following the assessment. Speech Therapy program for stroke addresses:
- Difficulty understanding the names of people and objects
- Difficulty understanding instructions and directions
- Difficulty finding the right words
- Difficulty speaking in single words, short sentences
- Leaving out small words such as “a”, “and”, “the”
- Putting words in the wrong order
- Mixing up words
Therapy for improving swallowing function
Stroke survivors often complain about swallowing difficulties, which is a result of the condition Dysphagia. The condition is often a result of damage in the area of the brain responsible for controlling the throat muscles. Since the muscles in the tongue and throat are the same ones used in making sounds, ST can also help stroke survivors with improving swallowing function.
A speech specialist evaluates the patient’s ability to swallow and make recommendations regarding proper positioning, feeding techniques, and possible changes in the consistency of food and drink. Symptoms like difficulty to swallow, coughing or gagging while swallowing, food or drink getting into the lungs, drooling, weak voice, affected tongue control and lost gag reflex are targeted with individuated exercise plans, the right posture during eating and expert suggestions such as:
- Thickening drinks to make them easier to swallow
- Eating soft food such as mashed potato or pureed food
- Changing the temperature of foods and drinks (hot things are more difficult to swallow)
- Eating small amounts throughout the day, rather than three big meals
- Turning the head to one side to provide better airway protection
- Taking only small sips of liquid
Sensory Trigger method for speech recovery after stroke
Using the Sensory Trigger method for speech recovery, studies reveal that most people improve within 6 to 8 weeks of daily practice. Sensory Trigger Method harnesses Neuroplasticity principle and uses all 3 sensory systems required for speech recovery – touch, sight, and sound. Studies have shown that Intensive Speech Therapy program is 85% more effective than conventional speech therapy program once combined with the use of the most frequently spoken words and conversational words.