The Importance of Speech Therapy After Stroke

August 24, 2023

speech therapy exerciseOne of the most significant effects of a stroke is difficulty communicating. This can range from mild difficulty with pronunciation and word choice to the inability to speak at all. Patients who suffer from this condition can feel isolated and frustrated. It is why speech therapy after a stroke is critical to help them regain their ability to communicate. In this blog, we'll cover the benefits of speech therapy, what it entails, and how it can improve the patient's quality of life. 

Why is Speech Therapy So Important After a Stroke?

Understanding the areas of the brain affected by a stroke helps to understand why communication problems occur. Blood vessels provide oxygen and vital nutrients to various parts of the brain, including the areas responsible for producing and comprehending speech. In a stroke, blood flow is interrupted. This causes damage to affected areas of the brain and often leads to communication difficulties.  

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) is a trained professional who can help stroke patients re-learn and strengthen communication skills, helping improve their ability to speak to and understand others. SLPs will tailor therapy sessions to meet the needs of the patient, but they will generally focus on specific speech sounds, pronunciation, grammar structure, and word choice.  

Another benefit of speech therapy after a stroke is that it can improve the patient's overall quality of life. Communication difficulties can lead to social isolation and depression, which is why speech therapy can be so crucial in helping stroke survivors regain the ability to connect with others. Speech therapy can build the patient's confidence in their ability to communicate, which can help them participate more fully in social situations. 

When Should You Start Speech Therapy After a Stroke? 

Speech therapy is more effective when started early. Studies show that patients who start therapy soon after a stroke have better outcomes than those who start later. If you or someone you know has had a stroke, it is essential to talk to their healthcare provider about beginning speech therapy as soon as possible. In addition to therapy sessions, there are speech therapy exercises that patients can do at home with the guidance of an SLP. 

Types of Speech Therapy Exercises After a Stroke 

Exercises that involve repetition, strengthening of facial muscles, and tongue coordination help patients regain control over their oral muscles. Speech therapy is also important for stroke patients who struggle with thinking, memory, or attention. Therapy sessions may include cognitive-linguistic exercises and activities, such as solving crossword puzzles or playing memory games.  

Various tools are available to facilitate speech therapy after a stroke, including:  

  • Just for Adults Photo Cards: Large-size photo cards include stimuli questions on the back related to problem solving, abstract reasoning, comparing/contrasting, and sequencing. These cards can also be used to spark discussion, strengthen conversational skills, and develop cognitive skills. 
  • AliMed® Swallowing Images™ Charts: This unique tool includes both swallowing exercises and a mirror to help maximize client-family understanding and compliance with the treatment program. Each set reinforces swallowing exercises and encourages strengthening of the specific muscle groups used in swallowing. The mirror gives instant visual feedback when practicing mouth and tongue movement.  
  • Language Activities Resource Kit (LARK-2): This kit includes an updated collection of objects, photographs, illustrations, and print material for use in language therapy with adults who have moderate to severe language disorders. These tools are particularly useful in speech production tasks aimed at improving intelligibility, enhancing comprehension and expression, and helping with functional communication. 
  • AliMed® SupraBall Chin Tuck Against Resistance: “Chin tuck against resistance” is a method for enhancing suprahyoid muscle activity using a sustained head lift (Shaker-type) exercise. CTAR works well with elderly clients and those with neck difficulties. This tool is used for isometric and isokinetic strengthening as well as Jaw Opening Against Resistance (JOAR) exercises. 

These exercises help stroke survivors improve their cognitive function, which can have a positive impact on their communication skills. However, it is essential to note that speech therapy after a stroke is not a quick fix. It is a long-term process that can take weeks, months, or even years, depending on the severity of the stroke. 

Can Speech Therapists Help with Eating and Swallowing? 

In addition to communication problems, it's not uncommon for stroke patients to develop dysphagia, which is a condition characterized by eating and swallowing difficulties. Speech therapists are also trained to evaluate and treat swallowing disorders to prevent complications such as aspiration pneumonia.  

A speech-language pathologist can introduce swallowing exercises, teach safe swallowing techniques, and recommend dietary modifications as needed. Early detection and management of dysphagia in stroke patients can prevent further complications and improve the patient's overall health. 

Working with a therapist who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy can help patients deal with the emotional and psychological impact of stroke, providing a clearer path to cognitive recovery. Although it is best to start as early as possible, if you or someone you know is a stroke survivor and is experiencing difficulties with speech, it's never too late to seek help from a speech-language pathologist. 


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