The 5 Strokes of Communication!

Hello Reader,

It has been a while since I’ve shared some information from my end and my sincere apologies for not staying in touch. For January, I have chosen the topic – stroke and its relation with Speech-Language Pathology.

Often people get confused between a heart attack and a stroke. Well, before we go into the depth, let’s filter out the two terminologies.

A heart attack is caused due to a blockage in the blood flow to the heart and a stroke is caused when the blood vessels in the brain burst and cut off the blood supply and oxygen in that part of the brain and can have an impact on speech, language and swallowing.

A thought that could follow the above terms – how are stroke and Speech-Language Pathology related? The human brain is extremely organized. It is divided into parts called hemispheres (right and left) and each area of the brain has a set of functions that it carries out. It sends signals to the organ to carry out a movement (motor signals) and also receives a signal (sensory signals). For example, when a pin is pricked on one’s arm, the prick is the sensory signal that travels to the brain. The brain helps us determine the location, that is, the pin was pricked on the arm in this case. An example of a motor signal would be – when one wants to lick an ice-cream, a signal is generated in the brain and carried to the tongue, then the tongue will initiate the movement of licking.

Similarly, the brain has areas designated for understanding spoken language, written language and for expressing language either verbally or non verbally. The left side of the brain is said to be more dominant for verbal language.

A stroke can occur in either side of the brain.  Following are some basics of the disorders and common effects of stroke in adults:

Aphasia – affects the person’s ability to comprehend and/or express verbal and written language. Aphasia has various sub-types – some people have more difficulty in understanding language, some in speaking and some in both formats. The type of aphasia depends on the location of stroke in the language areas of the brain. Auditory understanding, naming, repetition of sentences, spontaneous speech, math, visuospatial skills are affected. Degree varies from person to person. Aphasia can also be caused by tumors, head injuries, etc.

Dysarthria – affects the person’s speech clarity, i.e., speech intelligibility. The speech can be slurred, nasal, fast rate of speech, and not have a varied pattern of tone (monotonous). This is mainly due to weakness in the speech muscles.Along with stroke, tumors, any degenerative neurological disease (Parkinsonism, Alzheimer’s, ALS), brain injuries are a few causes of dysarthria.

Right Hemisphere Damage – if a stroke causes damage to this area of the brain, language skills like understanding humor and metaphors, attention, memory, orientation (self or place), problem solving skills, reasoning, emotions, neglecting anything written or on the left side, speaking out of context and reacting inappropriately in situations (laughing in a serious matter).

Apraxia – This is a type of speech disorder in which the person cannot say something he/she wishes to, in spite of no weakness in the speech muscles. The message programmed in the brain cannot be executed by the articulators (mouth). It can occur along with aphasia and dysarthria. Inability to repeat sentences and words, and better use of automatic speech (days of the week, months of the year, greetings, etc.) are few of the common speech difficulties observed.

Dysphagia – The difficulty, incoordination and/or deficits of the structures and the movements of the mouth and throat essential for swallowing food.

Besides stroke, there are other causes of the above mentioned disorders. If you know anyone around you who has speech-swallowing-language impediments,  do not hesitate to consult a Speech-Language Pathologist. In stroke patients, recovery depends on when was the damage done and the onset of therapy. Like said, the first 6 months post stroke with therapy often leads to better outcomes than later.

Stay tuned. 🙂

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