A stroke causes damage to the brain, and which parts of your brain are affected will determine what symptoms you have after the stroke. Problems with speech, language and the ability to swallow are all common effects of a stroke, caused by damage to the related areas of the brain.
When we talk about issues with language, we mean the both words that we understand (input of language) and the words that we use to communicate (output of language). Both can be affected by a stroke.
‘Input’ is used to describe what is understood by a person. A speech and language therapist will seek to examine how much you understand of the spoken word, and/or your ability to understand what they read.
‘Output’ describes the ability of a person to speak, write and gesture in order to communicate. Depending on the severity of a stroke, any or all of these outputs can be affected to different degrees. We’ll assess them all in order to determine the level at which therapeutic intervention should commence.
Dysarthria is the term we use to describe dysfunction in speech. The common symptoms are reduced speech or reduced ability to articulate, and a difficulty pronouncing words.
Following a stroke, your tongue, lips and voice may not work correctly. Your speech might be difficult to understand. This will often be very frustrating for the person recovering from a stroke as well as their family members and friends, as they find they are unable to communicate as effectively as they would like.
The severity of the stroke will determine the extent of the loss of speech function, which can range from mild to severe.
Swallowing is a complex process. In strokes where the brain stem is affected, a loss in swallowing function is common. Cerebral strokes can also result in swallowing difficulties. The medical term for swallowing difficulties is dysphagia, and as with all problems following a stroke, it can vary in its severity.
Some people find that following a stroke they have great difficulty swallowing certain foods or liquids. Others may not be able to swallow safely at all and a feeding tube to maintain adequate hydration and nutrition may be needed as a temporary or permanent measure.
Swallowing assessment may be an informal clinical bedside assessment or an objective assessment, namely FEES (a nasendoscopy to look at swallow function) and/or videofluoroscopy (radiographic examination of swallowing). Therapy aims to return swallow function to the optimum level achievable for each person.