Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dysarthria is More Than a Slip of the Tongue

Rebecca Dutton
Home After a Stroke
November 25, 2013

I had a stroke in the brain stem which connects the brain to the spinal cord. My stroke attacked a part of the brain stem called the pons - the bridge to the cerebellum which controls coordination. The inability to coordinate muscles of my lips, cheeks, and tongue made my speech severely slurred (dysarthria). The good news is that I never lost the ability to understand what people were saying. The bad news is that people could not understand me.

Incoordination of my diaphragm, which controls breathing, also made speaking difficult. To speak you have to let your breath out slowly. At first I exhaled explosively in one big gasp. I had to repeatedly take extra breaths to finish even one sentence. I gradually regained the ability to say more before running out of breath. It is still tiring to speak in a group because I have to take many deep breaths to be heard. Thankfully people never have trouble understanding me on the telephone. I speak into an ear bud so I never have to raise my voice which requires more air.

In nine years my dysarthria has never fully disappeared. When I am not fully awake or I am tired my speech is still somewhat slurred. I know this because people start staring at my mouth so they can read my lips. Sometimes I have to think about taking a full breathe because I am speaking too softly. I know this because people start saying "What?" after I speak.

I asked for help in the grocery store last night. The woman who helped me scowled and looked at me like I was retarded. After she left I realized I was incomprehensible because I was speaking so softly.

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