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Dysarthria (difficulty speaking)

Dysarthria is difficulty speaking caused by brain damage or brain changes later in life.

Symptoms of dysarthria

A child or adult with dysarthria may have:

As a result of these problems, a person with dysarthria may be difficult to understand. In some cases, they may only be able to produce short phrases, single words or no intelligible speech at all.

Dysarthria does not affect intelligence or understanding, but a person with the condition may also have problems in these areas. Speech problems can also affect social interaction, employment and education.

If you or your child has dysarthria, you may find it helpful to see a speech and language therapist (SLT). Ask a GP about your nearest speech and language therapy clinic.

What causes dysarthria?

The muscles used for speech are controlled by the brain and nervous system. Dysarthria can develop if either of these is damaged in some way.

Dysarthria can either be:

Dysarthria in children is usually developmental, while dysarthria in adults is often acquired, although both types can affect people of any age.

Whether dysarthria will improve with speech and language therapy depends on the cause and the extent of the brain damage or dysfunction. Some causes remain stable, while others may worsen over time.

Diagnosing dysarthria

Speech and language therapists can carry out an assessment to determine the extent of the speech problem. They may ask you or your child to:

The therapist may also want to examine the movement of the muscles in the mouth and voice box (larynx), and may wish to make a recording.

Treating dysarthria

A speech and language therapist will work as part of a team of healthcare professionals that includes people from the health, social and voluntary sector.

The therapist will try to improve and maximise your or your child's ability to talk. They'll help you find different ways of communicating, and will assist you and your family in adapting to your new situation.

They may recommend:

Some speech and language therapists may be able to carry out or refer you for a specialist assessment of communication aids, including computerised voice output systems. For some people, these devices can be used alongside or instead of speech to help them communicate.

See your local speech and language therapist if you're interested in having an assessment. They'll be able to provide further information and advice about arranging an assessment and trial of a communication aid.

There's no guarantee that speech and language therapy can improve the speech of everyone with dysarthria. Whether treatment is successful will depend on the extent and location of the brain damage or dysfunction, the underlying condition causing it, and the individual's personal circumstances.

Communication tips

The following advice may help you communicate more effectively if you've got dysarthria or if you're communicating with someone with the condition.

Tips for people with dysarthria

If you have dysarthria, you may find it helpful to:

Tips for family, friends and carers

If you're speaking to a person with dysarthria, you may find the following advice helpful:

Speech-related conditions