Dysarthria (Slurred Speech) in the Elderly

Slurred speech, or dysarthria, is a common disorder that affects much of the elderly population. The condition occurs when the muscles of the mouth, face and throat become weakened and stop working properly. As people age, they begin to lose muscle mass all over their body. Most elderly people lose most of their muscle mass from their legs, core and arms. However, it is possible to lose muscle mass in your chest, face, and mouth. If you lose muscle strength in these areas than your speech and your ability to swallow could be affected. Other issues that affect your central nervous system such as Parkinson’s disease and Ataxia can also cause dysarthria. If you or someone you love is suffering from slurred speech, then keep reading to find out more about dysarthria.


While many cases of dysarthria are caused by muscle mass loss, there are many other medical issues that could lead to slurred speech. Degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and certain Ataxias can all lead to slurred speech as they progress. Other brain disorders such as traumatic brain injuries or strokes can lead to slurred speech as well. Any type of injury or disease that leads to a destruction of any part of the brain or nervous system that deals with speech and comprehension can cause dysarthria. Due to the wide array of causes of dysarthria, there are often many treatment options for patients.


The main symptom of dysarthria is slurred speech. However, there are also many other symptoms that could point to dysarthria. Each patient’s symptoms may be different due to what caused their dysarthria in the first place, however some of the common symptoms include:

  • Speaking softly
  • Slow or very rapid rate of speech
  • Limited tongue, lip and Jaw movement
  • Hoarseness
  • Breathiness while speaking
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Changes in the quality of your voice (“nasal” speech or sounding “stuffy”)


Dysarthria must be diagnosed by a speech language pathologist. A licensed speech language pathologist is a professional who can diagnose and treat speech disorders. If you begin to exhibit symptoms of dysarthria, then your doctor may consider sending you to a speech language pathologist in order to receive a proper diagnosis. During your appointment, the speech language pathologist will have a conversation with you in order to hear you talk, look at how your lips and facial muscles moves, and listen to your voice quality and breathiness. They may have you say certain sentences in order to determine the severity of the slur. The speech language pathologist will also rule out other conditions before diagnosing you with dysarthria. One common motor disorder that affects a person’s speech is apraxia. A speech language pathologist must ensure that you are suffering from dysarthria not apraxia in order to treat you properly. Speech language pathologists work in a variety of environments, and many have their own offices. If you must visit one, then it is likely you will meet with them in their office or at a hospital.


Treatment for dysarthria will depend on the root cause of the issue. Many doctors will treat the root cause and then send their patients to speech language pathologists in order to improve their speech and communication abilities as their main disease is treated. Speech language pathologist can help people suffering from dysarthria learn how to speak clearer, slower and less breathy. During your first visit with a speech language pathologist after your diagnosis they will speak with you about the goals of your treatment. Depending on the severity of your dysarthria, the speech language pathologist could help you learn to speak clearer or could help you with alternative forms of communication. Speech language pathologists can help you improve the muscle tone in and around your mouth, can improve your breath sounds, and can give you ways to combat your slurred speech. They can also provide educational resources to your family and friends on how to adequately communicate with you. With severe cases of dysarthria, you may need to learn how to use sign language or computer based equipment that can aid in your communication.

Most treatment plans for dysarthria will combine the skills of a speech language pathologist and your general practitioner. The speech language pathologist will help you regain your communication skills while your general practitioner will find and treat the root cause of your dysarthria.

Tips for Communicating Easier

If you suffer from dysarthria, then you probably have had quite a few frustrating conversations with your friends and family. Communication may be difficult for you, and in turn, you could grow anti-social and withdrawn. Just because your speech changes slightly does not mean that you need to stop communicating with your friends and family. Instead, use these tips to communicate easier:

  • Start slow and use short sentences. As you feel more comfortable, elongate your sentences and begin using more difficult words.
  • Speak very slowly and loudly so that everyone around you can understand you.
  • Frequently pause your speech and think about what you want to say.
  • Use hand motions or sign language while you talk so that people around you can have visual aids during your conversations.

Dysarthria is a common disorder that can be caused from a variety of illnesses and disorders. By visiting a speech language pathologist, you can regain your ability to communicate and start to speak with more clarity. If you or someone you love is beginning to show signs of slurred speech, then talk to a doctor as soon as you can in order to get treatment early and work on your communication skills before your speech becomes too impaired. Also, always try to remember that you need to speak slowly and clearly. While it may be frustrating to have people not understand you often, you do have the ability to change the way you speak and react. Deliberately try to speak clearer and try not to get frustrated with people when they do not understand you.

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