The Impacts of Speech Therapy on Stroke Patients Experiencing Neurological Changes

Following a stroke, some individuals may require physical, occupational, or speech therapy to help them overcome lingering neurological impacts. Some of the common aftereffects of a stroke include slurred speech or difficulty speaking, coupled with the inability to move one side of the body. Speech therapy addresses communication, cognitive, and swallowing issues that may arise following a stroke, allowing therapists to capitalize on a process already taking place within the brain.

Lauryn Bruce, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, a speech-language pathologist at Nexus Specialty Hospital, is familiar with this process. “Every human has something called neuroplasticity,” she explained. “It’s the brain’s ability to adapt to an injury. While dead brain cells can’t come back to life, the brain can work around them.”

Speech-language pathologists build on this naturally occurring phenomenon, working with patients to re-establish ways that the brain connects to the motor functions of the mouth. “There are compensation exercises the help the muscles of the mouth and throat regain strength,” Lauryn said. “If a patient is having trouble swallowing after a stroke, we do breathing and speech exercises to help with the muscles involved with swallowing as well.”

When stroke patients first arrive at Nexus Specialty Hospital, they may be hard to understand due to their slurred speech. Speech-language pathologists work with patients and encourage them to try to say two to three words at a time. While the brain is already beginning to heal on its own, these strategies help an individual to recover faster and to a greater degree. “When they’re here at Nexus Specialty Hospital, we usually see the most progress after the original insult – usually in the first few weeks,” said Lauryn.

Patients at Nexus Specialty Hospital work with speech, occupational, and physical therapists to help regain some of the motor functions they may have lost following their stroke in ICU, med surg, and inpatient rehab settings. After making enough progress to discharge from the facility, they may still require ongoing therapy to refine and relearn those motor skills, whether through an outpatient facility or home health professionals.

“By the time they leave our facility, they may be able to speak in complete sentences, but talking on the phone may be too difficult, for example,” Lauryn said. “We send them home with what we call a home exercise program – it’s a complete list of recommendations for home exercises and what they can continue to work on when they return home to improve on what they started here at Nexus.”

Whether or not a patient requires ongoing therapy or is ready to return home, the speech therapy team at Nexus Specialty Hospital encourages them to complete the exercises in their home exercise program so that they can continually improve. “We also include diet recommendations and swallowing exercises in the case of patients who may have trouble with certain foods,” explained Lauryn. “Depending on the patient and their progress, we’ll also provide recommendations on what to expect when it comes to phone or in-person conversations or other situations that may arise when they go home.”

“In a perfect world, everyone would be able to speak just fine after a stroke,” she added. “That’s not always the case, and we do everything we can to make sure our patients make as much progress as possible on their path to healing.”

To learn more about the services that Nexus Specialty Hospital provides for its patients, click here.