How Speech Therapist Can Aid in Stroke Recovery

More than one in three people who have a stroke have communication problems afterward. Imagine waking up to a world where you don’t understand what people are saying to you, or you can’t find the words to express yourself. These are the type of challenges faced by a third of all people who survive a stroke. That’s why speech therapists are an important part of a person’s stroke recovery team.

Speech therapy plays a critical role in stroke recovery, particularly for individuals who experience language and speech difficulties, a condition known as aphasia, or problems with swallowing, known as dysphagia, following a stroke.

After a stroke, damage to the brain can interfere with the ability to articulate words or construct sentences. It can also impact comprehension, the ability to understand spoken language, reading, and writing. Speech-language pathologists, the professionals who provide speech therapy, help stroke survivors relearn these skills, leveraging the brain’s capacity to reorganize and form new connections, a process called neuroplasticity.

During the course of therapy, a speech-language pathologist uses a variety of techniques and approaches, often tailored to the specific needs of the individual. They might focus on enhancing speech clarity, practicing the formulation of sentences, or working on understanding and expressing language. Therapy might include repeating words and sounds, practicing writing and reading, and exercises to improve cognitive-communication skills such as attention, memory, and problem-solving.

For stroke survivors who struggle with dysphagia, speech therapy can be life-changing. Dysphagia can lead to serious complications, including malnutrition, dehydration, and aspiration pneumonia, which occurs when food or drink is inhaled into the lungs. Speech-language pathologists work with individuals to strengthen their swallowing muscles and learn safer swallowing techniques. They may also recommend changes in diet, such as foods of specific consistencies that are easier to swallow.

Speech therapy can also assist with other communication-related issues caused by stroke, such as dysarthria (difficulty articulating speech due to muscle weakness) or apraxia of speech (difficulty planning and coordinating the movements needed for speech).

In addition to the functional benefits, speech therapy also supports the emotional well-being of stroke survivors. Being able to communicate effectively is a significant factor in a person’s self-esteem, social relationships, and overall quality of life. The improvements made in speech therapy can lead to more positive interactions with family and friends, better engagement in social activities, and increased independence.