Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder. It results from impaired movement of the muscles used for speech production, including the lips, tongue, vocal folds, and/or diaphragm. The type and severity of dysarthria depend on which area of the nervous system is affected.
A person with dysarthria may demonstrate the following speech characteristics:
- “Slurred,” “choppy,” or “mumbled” speech that may be difficult to understand
- Slow rate of speech
- Rapid rate of speech with a “mumbling” quality
- Limited tongue, lip, and jaw movement
- Abnormal pitch and rhythm when speaking
- Changes in voice quality, such as hoarse or breathy voice or speech that sounds “nasal” or “stuffy”
Dysarthria is caused by damage to the brain. This may occur at birth, as in cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, or may occur later in life due to one of many different conditions that involve the nervous system, including
- brain injury,
- Parkinson’s disease,
- Lou Gehrig’s disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),
- Huntington’s disease,
- multiple sclerosis.
A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can evaluate a person with speech difficulties and determine the nature and severity of the problem. The SLP will look at movement of the lips, tongue, and face, as well as breath support for speech and voice quality. The assessment will also include an examination of speech production in a variety of contexts.
Treatment depends on the cause, type, and severity of the symptoms. An SLP works with the individual to improve communication abilities. Some possible goals of treatment include:
- Slowing the rate of speech
- Improving the breath support so the person can speak more loudly
- Strengthening muscles
- Increasing tongue and lip movement
- Improving speech sound production so that speech is more clear
- Teaching caregivers, family members, and teachers strategies to better communicate with the person with dysarthria
- In severe cases, learning to use alternative means of communication (e.g., simple gestures, alphabet boards, or electronic or computer-based equipment).