Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder. The muscles of the mouth, face, and respiratory system may become weak, move slowly, or not move at all after a stroke or other brain injury. The type and severity of dysarthria depend on which area of the nervous system is affected.
Some causes of dysarthria include stroke, head injury, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy. Both children and adults can have dysarthria.
A person with dysarthria may experience any of the following symptoms, depending on the extent and location of damage to the nervous system:
- "Slurred" speech
- Speaking softly or barely able to whisper
- Slow rate of speech
- Rapid rate of speech with a "mumbling" quality
- Limited tongue, lip, and jaw movement
- Abnormal intonation (rhythm) when speaking
- Changes in vocal quality ("nasal" speech or sounding "stuffy")
- Drooling or poor control of saliva
- Chewing and swallowing difficulty
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, voice quality, and more.
Another motor speech disorder is apraxia. An important role of the SLP is to determine whether the person's speech problems are due to dysarthria, apraxia, or both.
SLPs work in many places, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and schools. Sometimes an SLP can come to a person's home. To contact a speech-language pathologist visit ASHA's Find a Professional.
Treatment depends on the cause, type, and severity of the symptoms. An SLP works with the individual to improve communication abilities.
Possible Goals of Treatment
- Slowing the rate of speech
- Improving the breath support so the person can speak more loudly
- Strengthening muscles
- Increasing mouth, tongue, and lip movement
- Improving articulation 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)
It is important for both the person with dysarthria and the people he or she communicates with to work together to improve interactions. Here are some tips for both speaker and listener.
Tips for the Person With Dysarthria
- Introduce your topic with a single word or short phrase before beginning to speak in more complete sentences
- Check with the listeners to make sure that they understand you
- Speak slowly and loudly; pause frequently
- Try to limit conversations when you feel tired, when your speech will be harder to understand
- If you become frustrated, try to use other methods, such as pointing or gesturing, to get your message across, or take a rest and try again later
Children may need additional help to remember to use these strategies.
Tips for the Listener
- Reduce distractions and background noise
- Pay attention to the speaker
- Watch the person as he or she talks
- Let the speaker know when you have difficulty understanding him or her
- Repeat only the part of the message that you understood so that the speaker does not have to repeat the entire message
- If you still don't understand the message, ask yes/no questions or have the speaker write his or her message to you
This list is not exhaustive and inclusion does not imply endorsement of the organization or content of the Web site by ASHA.
- Mayo Clinic
- FCC speech-to-speech services access numbers
- Speech Communication Assistance by Telephone, Inc.
Dysarthria is caused by many different conditions that involve the nervous system, including the following:
- Brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
- Parkinson's disease
- Lou Gehrig's disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Huntington's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Information about the incidence and prevalence of motor speech disorders is available in the ASHA report, Incidence and Prevalence of Speech, Voice, and Language Disorders in Adults in the United States.
The following Web sites explain and define the many types of dysarthria.
ASHA produced a treatment efficacy summary on dysarthria [PDF] that describes evidence about how well treatment works. This summary is useful not only to individuals with dysarthria and their caregivers but also to insurance companies considering payment for much needed services for dysarthria.
In addition, practice guidelines for dysarthria have been developed by the Academy of Neurologic Communication Disorders & Sciences (ANCDS).
The Preferred Practice Patterns for the Profession of Speech-Language Pathology outline the common practices followed by SLPs when engaging in various aspects of the profession. The Preferred Practice Patterns for motor speech disorder assessment and intervention are outlined in Sections 32 and 33.