Speech Therapy for Lou Gehrig's Disease

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    The Facts

    • According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, early symptoms can include slurred speech, stiffness of muscles or difficulty swallowing. Sometimes you will begin stumbling more often because one of the legs is affected. The disease then begins to spread, causing muscle weakness in other parts of your body.

      Most people with ALS will die from respiratory problems after the muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall muscles weaken. The disease usually affects people between ages 40 and 60, and men are more affected than women. About 20,000 people in the United States have ALS.

      The disease does not have any known causes. Ninety to ninety-five percent of ALS cases appear to develop at random. There are no clear risk factors associated with the disease, and it is rarely inherited.

    Function of Speech Therapy

    • If you have been diagnosed with ALS and have difficulty speaking, speech therapy may be beneficial. A speech-language pathologist will help you learn new strategies and techniques to adapt to the disease. For example, you can learn techniques to help you speak more clearly. If the disease has progressed, preventing you from speaking at all, a speech therapist can help you use other ways to communicate nonverbally. There is also computer-based communication to help you speak.

      There is no treatment that will reverse the effects of ALS, including speech impairment. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, therapy is focused on maintaining the ability to communicate. Direct speech intervention, such as speech drills and exercises, is not recommended. Exercises leading to fatigue may actually worsen muscle deterioration.

      Eventually, the speech-language pathologist will aim to help select alternative communication aids, such as speech devices and responding to yes or no questions with eye movements. Speech therapy is a crucial part of treatment, especially as the disease progresses and you have trouble communicating with your family as well as doctors and nurses. If you learn to use alternative communication early on, you may even be able to continue working.

      If you are having difficulty swallowing, speech-language pathologists can also assist your caregiver in helping you eat. You may need to eat smaller meals during the days and avoid foods that make it difficult to swallow. They can work with a dietitian and a doctor to help you stay healthy and maintain your weight.

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