Skip to main content

Health Encyclopedia

Search the Health Encyclopedia

Speech impairment (adult)

Definition

Speech and language impairment may be any of several problems that make it difficult to communicate.

Alternative Names

Language impairment; Impairment of speech; Inability to speak; Aphasia; Dysarthria; Slurred speech; Dysphonia voice disorders

Considerations

The following are common speech and language disorders.

APHASIA

Aphasia is loss of the ability to understand or express spoken or written language. It commonly occurs after strokes or traumatic brain injuries. It can also occur in people with brain tumors or degenerative diseases that affect the language areas of the brain. This term does not apply to children who have never developed communication skills. There are many different types of aphasia.

In some cases of aphasia, the problem eventually corrects itself, but in others, it doesn't get better.

DYSARTHRIA

With dysarthria, the person has problems expressing certain sounds or words. They have poorly pronounced speech (such as slurring) and the rhythm or speed of speech is changed. Usually, a nerve or brain disorder has made it difficult to control the tongue, lips, larynx, or vocal cords, which make speech.

Dysarthria, which is difficulty pronouncing words, is sometimes confused with aphasia, which is difficulty producing language. They have different causes.

People with dysarthria may also have problems swallowing.

VOICE DISTURBANCES

Anything that changes the shape of the vocal cords or the way they work will cause a voice disturbance. Lump-like growths such as nodules, polyps, cysts, papillomas, granulomas, and cancers can be to blame. These changes cause the voice to sound different from the way it normally sounds.

Causes

Some of these disorders develop gradually, but anyone can develop a speech and language impairment suddenly, usually in a trauma.

APHASIA

  • Alzheimer disease
  • Brain tumor (more common in aphasia than dysarthria)
  • Dementia
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

DYSARTHRIA

VOICE DISTURBANCES

  • Growths or nodules on the vocal cords
  • People who use their voice heavily (teachers, coaches, vocal performers) are more likely to develop voice disorders.

Home Care

For dysarthria, ways to help improve communication include speaking slowly and using hand gestures. Family and friends need to provide plenty of time for those with the disorder to express themselves. Typing on an electronic device or using pen and paper can also help with communication.

For aphasia, family members may need to provide frequent orientation reminders, such as the day of the week. Disorientation and confusion often occur with aphasia.Using nonverbal ways of communicating may also help.

It's important to maintain a relaxed, calm environment and keep external stimuli to a minimum.

  • Speak in a normal tone of voice (this condition is not a hearing or emotional problem).
  • Use simple phrases to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Don't assume that the person understands.
  • Provide communication aids, if possible, depending on the person and condition.

Mental health counseling may help with depression or frustration that many people with speech impairment have.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact the provider if:

  • Impairment or loss of communication comes on suddenly
  • There is any unexplained impairment of speech or written language

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Unless the problems have developed after an emergency event, the provider will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. The medical history may require the assistance of family or friends.

The provider will likely ask about the speech impairment. Questions may include when the problem developed, whether there was an injury, and what medicines the person takes.

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include the following:

  • Blood tests
  • Cerebral angiography to check blood flow in the brain
  • CT or MRI scan of the head to check for problems such as tumor
  • EEG to measure electrical activity of the brain
  • Electromyography (EMG) to check the health of the muscles and the nerves that control the muscles
  • Lumbar puncture to check the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord
  • Urine tests
  • X-rays of the skull

If the tests find other medical problems, other specialist doctors will need to be consulted.

For help with the speech problem, a speech and language therapist or social worker will likely need to be consulted.

References

Halpern H, Goldfarb R. Language and Motor Speech Disorders in Adults. 3rd ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2013.

Kirshner HS. Aphasia and aphasic syndromes. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 13.

Kirshner HS. Dysarthria and apraxia of speech. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 14.

Review Date:5/30/2016
Reviewed By:Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com

The Agency for Health Care Administration (Agency) and this website do not claim the information on, or referred to by, this site is error free. This site may include links to websites of other government agencies or private groups. Our Agency and this website do not control such sites and are not responsible for their content. Reference to or links to any other group, product, service, or information does not mean our Agency or this website approves of that group, product, service, or information.

Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

Health
Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

Health Encyclopedia

More Features

We Appreciate Your Feedback!
1. Did you find this information useful?
         Yes
         No
2. Would you recommend this website to family and friends?
         Yes
         No