Speech therapy can help a senior who stutters.

October 22nd has been designated International Stuttering Awareness Day this year, and it will focus on activities which encourage raising awareness for this particular speech disorder, all around the globe. Stuttering can be a frustrating, stressful, and embarrassing disorder for those individuals bothered by it, and it can be even more bothersome for seniors since it interferes with clear and effective communication.

When thoughts need to be expressed quickly, stuttering can be a major obstacle and can cause issues. Your homecare professionals from Everett and elsewhere offer the following information about stuttering in seniors, which loved ones should be aware of, to help minimize the inconvenience and disruption sometimes caused by stuttering, and to have a greater understanding about it.

Causes of stuttering

There are three different types of stuttering: developmental, neurogenic, and psychogenic. Developmental stuttering generally occurs at age 5 or younger, as a child learns the mechanics of speech. Neurogenic stuttering is caused by the disruption of signals between the brain and those muscles responsible for making speech, and psychogenic stuttering is triggered in the section of the brain tasked with reason and thought processes.

While stuttering more commonly develops in young persons, often right at the beginning of speech usage, it can impact older individuals and seniors as well. Some seniors stammer because they have been afflicted with the disorder since childhood, and it simply never improved. Others can be bothered by the speech disorder after some kind of traumatic shock to the head, possibly after sustaining a concussion. It can also develop as a by-product of Parkinson's Disease or multiple sclerosis, and in these cases, the severity of stammering often mirrors the progress of the disease itself.

However, the single most common cause of adult-onset stammering is having a stroke. Each time you attempt to speak a word, there are literally thousands of triggers which fire in the brain and in the muscles which control speech, and if any of these actions is disrupted in any way, it can cause stammering or some other speech problem. Having a stroke represents a profound disruption to some of these required actions, so it's not surprising that stammering can be one result of having a stroke.

Symptoms of stuttering

Stuttering or stammering is characterized by the repetition of syllables, sounds, and words, or a prolonged emphasis on any of those, as well as a noticeable difference in the rate of speech. People who stammer often have difficulty with starting a sentence, or with uttering certain sounds or syllables. The anxiety caused by speech difficulties can also trigger facial tics or blinking, mild to severe anxiety about speaking, and a reluctance or refusal to speak at all. Social settings may be especially stressful for people who stammer, and public speaking is often a severe challenge.

Treatments for stuttering 

No single type of treatment will work with all people who stammer, and the specific treatment usually must be tailored to the individual, because it will depend on the kind of stuttering they have, the psychological issues impacting the stutter, and even the level of commitment of the person. One of the most frequently adopted treatments is speech therapy, and in seniors who stammer, the psychological reasons for stuttering also need to be addressed with help from another kind of professional.

Fluency therapy is a technique often used to help stammerers slow their speech down, relaxing the speech muscles, and pausing or prolonging spoken words for better control. Modification therapy aims at managing instances of stuttering by controlling fears and anxieties, as well as avoidance behavior.

Coping with stuttering

Treatments for stuttering can help significantly, but they rarely have an immediate impact, and that means at least for a time, people who stutter must learn how to cope with the disorder. There are a number of ways to do this, and all of them can contribute to making stuttering a less stressful and anxious process. For instance, it usually helps to ease into words slowly, to maintain eye contact with listeners, to speak in short sentences and to speak slowly, and to ask others to slow down, so you can process information more easily. All these techniques help to keep your speaking efforts in sync with the pace of your thoughts, so that a disconnect between the two doesn't develop, and exacerbate any speech issues.

Ongoing research with stuttering

There is a great deal of research in progress around the world, into ways of identifying stammering at an early age so it can be treated as soon as possible, and to determine more fully the factors which cause the speech disorder. A whole body of research is centering specifically on the type of stuttering which is passed on among family members, and scientists have made considerable progress in this area. They have isolated the specific genes which are considered to be the source of such stuttering, and are now studying why the gene defect leads to speech dysfluency.

Another promising area of study involves working with positron emission tomography (PET), to conduct brain scans which identify speech patterns associated with stammering. By making patients aware of the specific kinds of speech patterns which are associated with stammering, the affected individual can be taught to avoid those patterns, so as to produce more fluent speech. While research is not on the verge of any kind of cure, there is hope that research will bear fruit, and that stuttering can be made more manageable, in both young persons and seniors.