Speech Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
While most people wouldn’t associate speech therapy with MS, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that speech pathologists assess, diagnose, and treat issues with swallowing, communication, cognitive thinking, and comprehension, for a number of causes. These include but are not limited to brain injury, autism, cerebral palsy, stroke victims, Parkinson’s, and MS.
Many people are misinformed when they think of speech therapy is just for speech. Speech therapists also work with patients on everything from attention span to voice deficits, memory, high-level language skills, and more.
Speech therapists can be particularly helpful for MS patients who are working with attention issues – since there are four kinds of attention, and patients may struggle with any or all of them:
- Selective: This type of attention involves focusing on a certain object in your environment for a certain period of time. Because attention is a limited resource, it allows us to ignore the unimportant details and focus on the ones that matter.
- Focused/Sustained: this refers to the ability to focus on a certain task for a certain length of time.
- Multi-Tasking/Divided: This refers to the ability to process two or more responses or react to two or more demands at the same time. For instance, listening to a voice and pressing a button once you hear a certain sound or cue.
- Alternating: This refers to the ability to switch focus back and forth between tasks that have different demands.
Many MS patients work with speech therapists on many tasks related to memory, high-level cognitive processing, and attention as part of their neurological rehabilitation. If you’re an MS patient who struggles, talk to your doctor about getting a referral to a speech language pathologist to see how they can help you. You may be surprised at how much they can work with you on everything from word-finding activities to balancing a checkbook to basic word problems in math. Some therapists may even ask you listen to a story and repeat the details back to them immediately, and then again after 10 minutes, to work on delayed recall and thought organization.
For the MS patient with swallowing problems, there are a number of oral exercises that can be done to strengthen muscles in the lips, mouth, tongue, and cheeks. This can not only make it easier to communicate, but also to handle eating. With the help of different positions while eating, and diet modifications, in the most extreme cases, patients can still live a better quality of life. During and after treatment, special communication devices can be used to help patients communicate when speech is distorted or impossible.