Better Hearing and Speech Month

05/20/2019
Communication and swallowing disorders common in adults following stroke and other illnesses.

By Krista Healy, SLP, Sophie Lehar, SLP and Ellen Bachrach, SLP

With speech, language and swallowing disorders common following stroke, head and neck cancer, and a variety of other illnesses and injuries in adults, CHA Speech-Language Pathologists encourage you to learn the signs—and seek an evaluation—if you have concerns. This is a timely message, as May is recognized as Better Hearing and Speech Month.


Speech and language problems in adults can result from various causes. They include brain injury, stroke, and diseases that affect the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. They can also stem from breathing problems, cancers in the head and/or neck region and voice damage.

Speech and language disorders that may be acquired in adulthood include the following:

  • Aphasia. This involves problems speaking, understanding, reading, writing, telling time, and/or using numbers. Often misunderstood, aphasia does not affect a person’s intelligence. The most common cause of aphasia is a stroke.
  • Cognitive-communication disorders. Problems with thinking and communication can affect each other. Some examples are difficulty paying attention, remembering, organizing thoughts and solving problems.
  • Apraxia of speech. Speech difficulties arise from problems planning motor movements. It is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that are involved in speaking.
  • Dysarthria. Speech difficulties (slurred speech) due to the weakness of muscles involved in breathing and/or speaking.
  • Voice disorders. Changes in pitch, loudness, and vocal quality that negatively impact communication. These may result from nodules on the vocal cord, overuse of voice (yelling), diseases such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis and other causes.

Speech-language pathologists can help adults with these and other communication problems.

May is also a time to spotlight swallowing disorders, called dysphagia, which too are treated by speech-language pathologists. Dysphagia is another common side effect of numerous diseases in adults. A person’s ability to eat and drink is critical to maintaining good health and promoting recovery from illness. Food is also a central part of many social experiences—contributing to an enjoyable and fulfilling life. Treatment can be truly transformative to a person’s quality of life.

Speech-language pathologists treat dysphagia in various ways, including:

  • Helping people use their muscles to chew and swallow.
  • Finding better positions for people to sit or hold their head while eating.
  • Identifying strategies to make swallowing better and safer.
  • Advising people on their dietary choices, including softer foods or thicker drinks.

At CHA we have speech-language pathologists offering support for a wide variety of communication and swallowing disorders in both pediatrics and adults. Please contact the CHA Rehabilitation Department at 617-591-4600 with questions.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.