Do Speech & Language Skills Deteriorate with Age?
As we age, our bodies change in a wide variety of ways, some of which can be a surprise. While it is expected that we will slow down physically as the years go on, or that our eyesight or hearing may be affected, there are other changes that can occur that people may be less aware of. Changes in speech and language abilities are some of these age-related challenges that often take people by surprise.
As is the case in other areas of physical health, changes to speech as we age can be normal. However, some people may experience more severe and debilitating changes to speech and language skills which can significantly affect the individual’s independence and quality of life.
Communicating effectively is an important skill to have for anyone at any age, but for older people, this skill set is vital to their enjoyment and quality of life. When a senior is not able to effectively describe their needs, any pain or discomfort they may be feeling, or what they may be struggling with in general, this opens the door for an emergency situation to potentially occur. Not only that, as we age our ability to engage in things that have brought us pleasure earlier in life can be limited. As a result, opportunities to socialize, enjoy media such as television and books, and connect with loved ones become increasingly important.
When communication skills deteriorate, these activities become more difficult or even impossible. This is where speech therapy can become an essential resource for older people who are struggling with their communication skills. Get support for yourself or a loved one now by scheduling your free introductory call today!
How Does Aging Affect Speech?
The normal progression of aging can cause several changes that affect speech. Muscles become weaker as we age, including the muscles in the throat and jaw. In addition to this, many people experience tissue or glandular changes. When these factors combine, changes to speech occur as the aging process progresses. This can explain why the typical voice of an elderly person is often a little hoarse or shaky, as well as significant variations in pitch.
These changes in muscle strength affect the larynx which is where our voice is produced. When the larynx doesn’t get adequate support from the muscles, flexibility becomes reduced and nearby cartilage can become hardened. These factors can affect the way that speech and vocal sounds are produced.
What Causes Speech Problems in the Elderly?
If you or someone you love is experiencing subtle changes in speech lately, understanding the causes is very important, as well as what can be done to remedy the issue. Apart from the expected changes to speech as we age due to muscle weakening and other factors, there are other things that can cause more significant changes to speech in the elderly.
Speaking abilities require that sound is produced within the voice box, and words must be formed in the mouth. However, it is the brain’s job to process thoughts and control the functions related to speech.
There are several different brain diseases that can cause speech problems. These include traumatic brain injury, stroke, degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, tumor, anoxia (hearing loss), and other neurological injuries. Health conditions such as stroke or dementia can also cause changes in one’s ability to communicate. Certain medications, as well as various injuries, can also affect communication abilities.
Aphasia refers to the loss of the ability to express or understand speech, whereas dysarthria refers to problems related to speech articulation. Apraxia of speech refers to difficulties related to the use of muscles to form words, usually as a result of brain damage. Whatever the challenges may be when speech is affected by aging, there is no better resource than working with a speech and language pathologist. Get help for yourself or a loved one by scheduling your free introductory call today!
What are the Signs of Speech Problems in Elderly People?
Some of the signs of age-related speech changes aren’t always easily recognizable, and can include:
- Hoarseness and changes in pitch
- Difficulty related to the production of certain sounds or saying specific words
- Difficulty swallowing
- Challenges participating in and following a conversation
- Changes in cognitive abilities
- Loss of hearing
How Can Speech Therapy Help Seniors?
In many cases, changes to speech as one ages can progress beyond subtle differences in tonality and pitch. Often these changes can mean that the individual’s ability to communicate can be significantly affected. This can be not only very frustrating for the individual and their loved ones, but it can also have a negative effect on their health and safety.
Speech therapy is an excellent option for every senior who may be experiencing changes related to their voice patterns and performance. Experts agree that you should not wait until a speech problem is so advanced to seek treatment and support. Waiting may result in speech deteriorating to the point that extensive services are required or where it has reached the point that vocal function is not able to be completely restored.
Speech therapy for seniors can serve to help strengthen their communication skills, and in some cases re-learn how to speak. Speech therapists will use a variety of vocal exercises to help them communicate effectively once again. All speech-language pathologists are trained to focus on speech, language, voice, and cognition problems within the older population.
Treatment for the elderly during speech therapy can include:
- Art therapy
- Melodic intonation therapy (singing words they are struggling to speak)
- Group therapy and support groups
- Visual speech perception (associating words with pictures) therapy
- Constraint-induced language therapy (creating a scenario using spoken words only, without the use of visual cues such as facial expression, body language, etc.)
Great Speech offers extensive therapy programs through our online telespeech practice. The goal of speech therapy for seniors is to increase their functional communication and cognitive skills. Speech therapy programs can also include muscle strengthening and retraining, compensatory strategies, and the use of communication devices. The sooner you seek help and support for yourself or your loved one, the better. Get started by scheduling your free introductory call today!