Editor’s note: “Need to Know” is a series inspired by common forum questions and comments from readers. Have a comment or question about MS? Visit our forum.
This week’s question is inspired by the forum topic “Slurred Speech” from May 14, 2018.
What is dysarthria?
Neurologically speaking, dysarthria refers to speech abnormalities caused by nerve damage to areas commonly in charge of vocalizing. For people with MS, this nerve damage is typically the result of demyelination.
“Disturbances of the nerve supply that weaken the muscles of the lower face, lips, tongue, and throat can result in dysarthria,” says Donald A. Barone, DO, on the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America’s website. “More commonly, multiple small lesions in either of the two large lobes of the brain, known as the cerebral hemisphere, result in poor motor control and coordination of these muscles,” he adds.
This can lead to the slurred or slow speech with unusual articulations that commonly characterize speech problems in people with MS.
MSers will describe their predicament as “sounding drunk” or “tripping over words.” It’s no surprise that it’s similar to the kinetic symptoms — spasms and incoordination — that affect the arms and legs in people with MS.
What does dysarthria sound like?
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) identifies seven different kinds of speech deviations common to dysarthria in MS:
- Volume control problems (too loud, too soft, unusually variable)
- Strained or harsh-sounding voice
- Articulation problems (words are distorted as they are spoken)
- Impaired emphasis (in phrasing, speech rate, stress on sounds and syllables, and tone)
- Impaired pitch control (speaking in too high or too low a voice)
- Decreased vital capacity (relates to breathing support and control while speaking)
The NMSS further divides dysarthria into three distinct categories:
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