Therapy for Speech Problems: Frequently Asked Questions

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: April 2023

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) often have difficulty speaking clearly. You may have slurred speech or lose the flow of a conversation. You also may have difficulty speaking at the right speed, volume, or tone. These problems can make it hard to communicate and can negatively affect your quality of life.1

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are specially trained to evaluate and treat these problems. This type of therapist works closely with your other rehabilitation team members.1

You might have questions about speech therapy and how it relates to MS. Getting answers to these questions can help you better understand your treatment options.

What are some common symptoms of MS-related speech disorders?

There are a few different ways MS can affect your speech. You may slur your words or have trouble saying them clearly. You also may speak more softly than usual or have a change in the pitch of your voice. Problems with swallowing or drooling can also impact your speech.1

In addition to speech problems, MS can cause muscle weakness that makes it hard to write. Your handwriting also might change due to these muscle problems.1

Why does MS cause speech problems?

There are many areas in the brain that help you produce speech. With MS, damaged areas in the brain (lesions) can lead to problems with your throat and mouth coordination, for example. These problems can cause changes in your normal speech patterns that make it difficult for people to understand what you are saying. This is called dysarthria.1

How does MS impact cognition?

The term "cognition" refers to the many different things your brain does, including:2

  • Learning and remembering information
  • Organizing and planning
  • Focusing and paying attention
  • Understanding and producing language
  • Accurately perceiving your surroundings
  • Doing math

MS can lead to changes in your cognition. More than half of all people with MS will have problems with cognition at some point. Trouble finding the right words can be one sign of cognitive problems caused by MS.2

What is speech therapy?

Speech therapy is a type of treatment that helps people regain or improve their ability to speak. SLPs work with people of all ages, from infants to older adults. They can help with a wide range of speech and communication disorders, including those caused by MS.1

What does speech therapy involve?

It usually involves a combination of exercises and activities. The therapist may have you practice making certain sounds or read aloud from a book. You might also work on memory and problem-solving tasks. The goal of speech therapy is to improve your communication skills.1

How long will I need speech therapy?

This will depend on your situation and the severity of your speech disorder. Most people need regular sessions with an SLP, usually for several months or longer.1

What can I do to communicate better?

Dealing with the communication challenges caused by your MS can be overwhelming. But there are strategies you can use to manage your interactions better and make sure you are understood and heard.1

Try to be extra clear when giving instructions or relaying information. This means choosing your words carefully. Try to rely more heavily on nonverbal cues like facial expressions or body language. This type of feedback can often help the other person understand your message or meaning.1,2

Assistive devices also are available to help you communicate better. There might be apps, devices, or other tools you can use in your daily life. Ask your SLP for recommendations.1

Speech therapy can be taxing, so do not forget to take care of yourself. Take a break from social interactions, or set aside some time each day to do something you enjoy. Taking care of your mental health will help you communicate effectively with others, even when things are tough. Remember to stay calm and be proactive as much as possible. This will help you live a fulfilling life with MS.1,2

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