How Speech Therapy Supports People with MS
There are over 25,000 people living with MS in Australia right now. And as this neurological disease progresses, many may find themselves needing to access the support of a Speech Pathologist. If you’re wondering how Speech Therapy supports people with MS – well, there’s a lot of ways! From speech production through to swallowing, and more. Speech Therapy makes a difference.
At SpeechEase Speech Therapy, we love being able to support our clients with Multiple Sclerosis to strengthen and maintain their ability to speak clearly with those around them. Communication is a big part of the way we connect with those we love, and so we know how important it is for clients with MS to access support as soon as they need it.
To learn more about the different ways Speech Therapy supports people with MS, keep on reading.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis, also referred to as ‘MS’, is the most commonly acquired chronic neurological disease affecting young adults in Australia. It’s often diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40.
Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that causes the body’s own immune system to mistakenly attack and damage fatty material – called myelin – around the nerves. Myelin is important for protecting and insulating nerves so that electrical messages that the brain sends to the body can travel quickly to enable things like movement to take place.
Think of the Myelin being like the plastic tubing that encloses the wires and cords that we use to charge our laptops or smartphones.
As the Myelin breaks down due to MS, patches of nerves become exposed and then scarred, which render the nerves unable to communicate messages properly and at risk of further degeneration.
This means that the brain cannot talk to other parts of the body, resulting in a range of symptoms that can include a loss of motor function. For example, this may look like changes in walking and hand and arm function, loss of sensation, pain, vision changes and changes to thinking and memory.
While there is no known single cause of Multiple Sclerosis yet, there have been many genetic and environmental factors shown to contribute to its development. You can learn more about this here.
Why Would Someone with MS Need Speech Therapy?
Now that we’ve covered what MS is, let’s have a think about the different ways in which the disease may impact the way a person shows up to their day-to-day life.
As mentioned earlier, Multiple Sclerosis slowly damages the nerves in the body, leading to a range of symptoms including loss of motor function. This can lead to symptoms arising like difficulty swallowing and slurred speech.
We use over 20 different muscles when swallowing, so, it’s easy to see how damage to the nerves in the brain responsible for muscle control of this area could impact swallow function. To be specific, Specialists in this area believe this is caused by MS lesions (or damaged area) in the part of the brain responsible for controlling movement of the lips, tongue, soft palate, vocal cords, or diaphragm.
On the other side, someone with Multiple Sclerosis may find that they are progressively speaking with slurred speech, eventually to the point where those around them are struggling to understand what they’re saying. Most often it is family members or doctors who are able to pick up on this change, but the sooner it is noticed and treated, the better.
Both swallowing difficulties and speech difficulties can cause immense challenges to people with MS if left untreated. Accessing a thorough assessment from a certified practicing Speech Pathologist should be a priority if symptoms of either challenge are noticed.
How Does Speech Therapy Support People with Multiple Sclerosis?
To make this article as clear as possible, we’ll explore each of the challenges mentioned above separately. Although it’s important to note that when someone has Multiple Sclerosis, they may experience both challenges at the same time, and at different levels of severity.
Speech Therapy for Swallowing Difficulties
Swallowing difficulties are clinically referred to as Dysphagia. This means that the person has difficulty with chewing, manipulating, and moving food, medications and drinks through the mouth, throat, and oesophagus into the stomach.
Some people with Dysphagia may be completely unable to swallow or have trouble safely swallowing liquids, foods, or saliva. As you can imagine, when this happens eating and drinking becomes a challenge that can have life-threatening consequences.
Speech Therapy for Dysphagia begins with a thorough assessment, where the Speech Pathologist will determine what diet or feeding modifications will need to take place while swallow function is being treated with therapy. This will ensure that the person with Multiple Sclerosis will be less likely to have food or drink ‘go down the wrong hole’, which can cause nasty things like aspiration pneumonia (a potentially fatal chest infection caused by food, fluid, or saliva entering the lungs) to occur.
Speech Therapy supports people with Multiple Sclerosis to strengthen the muscles and improve coordination required for a safe swallow. Speech Pathologists may recommend using an altered seating position while eating to support a safe swallow while therapy takes place. You can learn more about our MunchEase Mealtimes Clinic here.
Speech Therapy for Speech Difficulties
People with MS may find themselves speaking with slurred speech, talking quietly, or talking slowly as the disease progresses. As many as 40% of people with MS will have speech difficulties at some time. This is, again, caused by MS lesions (damaged areas) in the part of the brain responsible for muscle control of the oral articulators like the tongue and even the vocal cords.
The good news is we can use Speech Therapy to support people with MS to improve their speech clarity and vocal quality. After a thorough assessment with a certified practicing Speech Pathologist, a diagnosis will be given for the specific speech challenge (e.g. Dysphonia, Dysarthria), and a treatment plan of regular Speech Therapy sessions will be created.
This tailored program will include strategies and exercises targeted at improving the function of the muscles involved in breath support and speech production. The Speech Pathologist may focus on specific techniques to help make speech clearer and more intelligible. This Speech Therapy approach may even incorporate elements of the LSVT Loud program.
Where to Get Speech Therapy Support for People with MS
If you or someone you love is struggling with the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, and would like to access Speech Therapy support, we are here to help.
Your first step will typically be getting a referral from a neurologist (if you’d like to access NDIS funding) for Speech Therapy services. However, you can also enquire with Private Practice Speech Therapy clinics. Waitlists can be long, so the sooner you get on a waitlist, the better.
If you are based in Queensland, we have SpeechEase Speech Therapy clinics in Mackay, Townsville, and Brisbane that are ready to help you. Register for our services today or call us on 1300 773 273 to speak to one of our friendly team members.
*This information is general in nature.