See what our Speech and Language Therapists have to say about Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis: How can a Speech and Language Therapist Help?
Speech and swallowing problems are common in Multiple Sclerosis. The part of the brain responsible for the muscle control of the lips, tongue, soft palate, vocal chords or respiratory system can be damaged by MS. This leaves your speech sounding slurred, effortful, or quiet. The same set of muscles needed for speech are also involved in swallowing which is why you may also find yourself frequently coughing or clearing your throat when eating or drinking.
A common speech disorder that has been found in those with MS is dysarthria. This affects the way speech is produced. This can cause slurring of your speech. Other symptoms include low volume, nasal speech, slower or imprecise speech.
Aphasia is less common in individuals with MS. It is a disorder which can sometimes make it difficult to understand what is being said to you or for you to express yourself verbally.
Sometimes medications can make speech difficult as they can leave your mouth feeling dry.
It has been found that a third of people with MS experience changes in swallow function at some time in their life. Problems with swallowing is referred to as dysphagia. These changes can be an on-going issue, or can come and go. Whether it is an ongoing issue or an intermittent problem, difficulty eating or drinking can be alarming and uncomfortable. Some of the signs you may experience include problems with chewing, the feeling of food being stuck in your throat, coughing, pain, and difficulty moving food from your mouth to your stomach. As with speech issues, medication that causes dry mouth can also make swallowing difficult.
How can a Speech and Language Therapist Help?
Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) are trained to assess, diagnose and treat speech, language and swallowing problems. An SLT can examine the muscles that are needed for speech and evaluate how you are controlling their movement. They will check how you pronounce words and how effectively you are communicating with others. Similarly, the SLT can evaluate your swallow function by examining your oral muscles and observing you eat/drink. Exercises and strategies can be discussed with the SLT. These exercises vary depending on your difficulty. Some help you strengthen your muscles, others help you self-monitor your own speech, and sometimes it is just about providing specific strategies which help improve your communication with others. There are times when there is a problem with swallowing that an SLT will also advise that you change your diet to suit what you can swallow safely.
Tips to Help you Communicate with Others:
- Make sure you have the person’s full attention
- Make sure that the person can see you clearly
- Try to make eye contact, this will help the person focus on you
- Minimise competing noises, such as the radio, TV, or other people’s conversations. When possible, if you are rushing or feeling stressed, try to take a moment to calm yourself. Speak clearly and calmly
- Use Humour. Try to laugh together about misunderstandings and mistakes
Tips for those Communicating with you…how can they become better listeners:
- Listen carefully to what the person is saying, and give them plenty of encouragement
- When you haven’t understood fully, tell the person what you have understood and check with them to see if you are right. Sometimes asking closed questions to clarify information can help
- If the person has difficulty finding the right word or finishing a sentence, ask them to explain it in a different way. Listen out for clues. Also pay attention to their body language.
- Always show respect and patience. Give them a chance and don’t always finish their sentences for them. Acknowledge their competence and talk to them like an adult
Tips for Eating/Drinking
- Stay in an upright position during mealtimes and stay in this position half an hour after eating
- Eat slowly and take your time making sure you have chewed everything fully
- Try to avoid eating in environments which are busy and distracting
- Drink sips of liquid between eating bites of food
- If you are experiencing difficulty when swallowing try to avoid foods which are dry, crumbly, hard, or of a chewy consistency