When a person experiences a stroke, the blood supply to the brain is interrupted usually by a blood clot or bursting of a blood vessel, which results in damage to the brain cells. A major stroke might result in serious debilitation or even death, while someone who has a minor stroke, also called transient ischemic attack, might barely notice symptoms and have few lasting side effects. However nearly one-fourth of all stroke survivors experience some form of language called aphasia or speech impairment, called dysarthria.
When the stroke-induced injury is on the left side of the brain, the language-control centers of the brain can be damaged, making it difficult for the stroke victim to speak or write the words they intend (expressive aphasia), or to understand words spoken to them or put words together coherently (receptive aphasia). If they lose all linguistic ability, both to understand words and use them to convey ideas, this is called global aphasia.
The good news is that the brain can often recover and heal after a stroke, and skills such as speaking and writing can be retaught. In some cases, speech returns naturally, often within just a few days after a minor stroke. But often the patient might need the expertise of a trained Speech-Language Pathologist to either regain speaking ability or learn a new way to communicate, including using new technologies.
Speech-Language Pathologists are a central part of the interdisciplinary team of rehab specialists at Roper St. Francis. Some of the therapeutic techniques that can help people with aphasia, dysarthria or higher level cognitive linguistic deficits learn to communicate again include:
- Language rehabilitation through repetition, including intensive exercises such as repeating the therapist’s words, reading or writing exercises, and practicing following
- The Speech-Language Pathologist can evaluate and treat a stroke survivor only if a physician’s order is complete. If you or a loved one has had a stroke and could benefit from a Speech-Language evaluation, contact your primary care doctor to get an order and initiate scheduling an appointment. Roper St. Francis has Speech-Language Pathology available on an inpatient and outpatient basis.
- Conversational coaching and practicing speaking, including prompts or cues to help people remember specific words.
- Speech-Language Pathologists might also help stroke patients learn strategies for working around their language disabilities, such as using symbol boards or sign language, or computer-based technologies that enhance communication. There are numerous apps already available and more being developed that help practice and drill language skills, or convert text to speech and vice versa, among other augmentative communication tools.