A stroke is a catastrophic event that can cause multiple, long-lasting health problems. Strokes can adversely affect vision, balance, cognition, memory, and speech, and even cause temporary or long-lasting paralysis on one side of the body.
Difficulty communicating is one of the most life-altering complications after a stroke. Many stroke patients have reduced speaking abilities, called aphasia, which impairs their ability to process language. Aphasia occurs in about 20 to 40 percent of stroke patients.
While aphasia does not affect intelligence, it can make it hard for the stroke patient to understand others and communicate, and can also affect their ability to read and write.
In conjunction with proper, ongoing medical care, a stroke patient will need to work with a team of physical, occupational, and speech therapists to help regain many of the essential functions that are critical for having a normal life.
How Speech Therapists Help
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs), also more commonly known as “speech therapists,” are important members of the stroke patient’s rehabilitation team. SLPs diagnose, assess, and ultimately treat disorders related to language; voice; cognition; and the ability to swallow, chew, and more.
Speech therapists work with patients in an effort to reach the highest potential for communication and function after the stroke, as well as to improve the patient’s sense of autonomy and overall quality of life. Speech therapy helps stroke patients regain essential functions, including the following:
- Swallowing The inability to swallow is a common side-effect of stroke. Speech therapy can help stroke patients relearn to swallow, and use the muscles necessary to move the tongue and esophagus, which also play a role in forming sounds in speech.
- Speech Often times, certain muscles used for speech are damaged during a stroke affecting speech clarity and pronunciation. Speech Therapy can help improve muscle strength, memory and coordination. An SLP will also teach a stroke patient how to produce and relearn sounds that may have been affected at the time of the stroke.
- Word retrieval Many stroke patients have difficulty with remembering words, or may use the wrong word to describe an object. Speech therapy can help stroke patients regain cognitive function, and memory, which can improve word retrieval. Additionally, an SLP may also recommend group therapy to improve conversational skills, which can further bolster the return of cognitive functions. Role playing in speech therapy also helps improve a stroke patient’s interactions with others.
- Attention and problem solving An SLP can help a stroke patient with attention and regaining problem-solving skills. Speech therapy exercises can include simple crossword puzzles or flash card use, or more advanced therapies to help improve synaptic plasticity.
Speech Therapists Are Part of An Essential Team of Rehabilitation Specialists
Speech therapists works in conjunction with a stroke patient’s other rehabilitation specialists during the recovery process to provide the most thorough care possible.
A speech therapist may work with the occupational therapist to help the patient return to work, for example, and develop a rehabilitation plan for recalling many essential work-related functions and communication strategies.
SLPs also work with the patient’s caretakers, children, and physicians to help modify their lifestyle and environment to suit their unique care needs.