Dysarthria and Parkinson’s: causes, treatment and more

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Dysarthria is a speech disorder that occurs when the muscles a person uses to speak weaken. The condition is common in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Someone who has dysarthria and Parkinson’s disease can experience vocal tremors, too soft or too loud speech, or a monotonous vocal tone, among other symptoms.

Scientists are researching methods to relieve dysarthria and Parkinson’s disease. Although there is currently no cure, speech therapy and communication strategies can help people with these conditions communicate more effectively with others.

Keep reading to learn more about dysarthria and Parkinson’s disease, including symptoms and treatment options.

Dysarthria is an umbrella term for speech disorders that develop due to weakened muscles that people use to speak. These muscles are found in the mouth, face, and respiratory system.

Common causes include brain damage and neurological disorders, but dysarthria can also occur due to:

  • inflammatory conditions, such as encephalitis, meningitis, and autoimmune diseases
  • vascular conditions, such as strokes and Moyamoya disease
  • exposure to toxic elements, such as carbon monoxide, alcohol, and heavy metals

There are different types of dysarthria depending on the location of the disorder or damage. However, research suggests that hypokinetic dysarthria is the type of speech disorder that doctors often associate with Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is one of many movement disorders, which are neurological conditions that affect body movement. They can occur when a person’s brain does not supply enough dopamine to the basal ganglia.

The basal ganglia are structures deep in the brain that help initiate and control movement. Lack of dopamine impairs the ability of the basal ganglia to release the inhibition necessary for movement. This includes impaired movement of the muscles responsible for speech and often leads to dysarthria.

About 70–100% of people with Parkinson’s disease also have dysarthria.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

A person with dysarthria may experience symptoms related to speech, such as:

  • vocal tremors
  • monotonous vocal tone
  • a voice that sounds raspy, rough, raspy, or nasal
  • unusually quiet or loud speech
  • excessively fast or slow speech
  • twisted vowels and consonants

When a person has dysarthria due to Parkinson’s disease, they may also experience movement-related symptoms, including:

  • slowness or difficulty moving or walking
  • difficulty balancing, falling, dizziness or fainting
  • body stiffness
  • a hunched posture
  • facial masking, which refers to difficulty making facial expressions
  • body tremors

It is important to note that Parkinson’s disease can also include non-motor symptoms, such as psychological changes, sleep problems, loss of smell, constipation, and weight loss.

Current treatments for dysarthria and Parkinson’s disease include speech therapy, medical therapy, surgery, or a combination of the three.

Older comments point out that medications tend to help limb function more than speech improvement. However, more recent research states that surgical procedures, such as deep brain stimulation, have variable results.

This suggests that speech therapy is the most common option for people with dysarthria and Parkinson’s disease.

The American Speech, Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) describes treatments that target speech-producing subsystems, including breathing, phonation, articulation, resonance, and prosody.

A person with dysarthria and Parkinson’s disease might work with a speech therapist on:

  • exercises to strengthen the muscles of the mouth
  • take a deep breath before you start speaking
  • use more breathing to make speech louder
  • slow down his speech
  • exaggerate the articulation to make a “clear” speech

The ASHA highlights communication strategies that can help people with these conditions. They understand speaker strategies, such as maintaining eye contact, pointing and gesturing, and rephrasing the message using different words. Additionally, communication partner strategies, such as active listening, using specific questions for clarification, and providing feedback and encouragement, can help.

A person with dysarthria may find Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) useful. AAC involves supplementing natural speech with unaided methods such as finger spelling, hand signs, and gestures. People may also benefit from assisted AAC methods, including pictures, communication boards, and speech-generating devices. Finally, the modification of the environment is beneficial for all those who communicate. This involves setting the stage for clear communication and understanding. Techniques include:

  • reduce background noise
  • ensure there is adequate lighting
  • sitting face to face during conversations
  • adjust the proximity between people conversing

Currently there is no cure for dysarthria associated with Parkinson’s disease. However, research into ways to alleviate the symptoms of both conditions continues.

In the meantime, the above treatments and management methods can help people with dysarthria and Parkinson’s disease communicate better with others.

Importantly, a person should let their doctor know if they start showing signs of dysarthria. A 2018 review speech impairment in Parkinson’s disease notes that although the prevalence of speech impairment in people with Parkinson’s disease may be as high as 89%, only 3-4% receive speech therapy.

Talking about speech therapy with a doctor can help someone with Parkinson’s learn to communicate more clearly.

Dysarthria is a speech disorder that occurs when the muscles a person uses to speak become weak. It is common in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Symptoms may include vocal tremors, speaking too quickly or too slowly, and changes in the pitch and sound of the voice.

Currently, there is no cure for dysarthria caused by Parkinson’s disease. However, there are several treatment and management options.

Some options, like surgery, have variable results. Others, such as talking therapies and other communication strategies, may be more successful in improving communication between people.

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