Each year, almost 800,000 people in the United States suffer from a stroke. Strokes can lead to:
- Muscle weakness
- Cognitive issues
- Decreased emotional control
Another common effect stroke patients experience is speech impairment. There are many forms of speech impairment stroke patients can suffer from, grouped under the general term aphasia.
While some stroke patients will regain some normal speech patterns post-stroke, there are speech therapy exercises for stroke patients that can help during recovery. We are going to go over 5 of the best speech therapy exercises that you can do at home.
Stroke and Aphasia
Not all stroke patients will experience aphasia, but it’s estimated that as many as 40% of stroke survivors have some form of aphasia.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood cannot access an area of the brain. This could be because of a blood clot (called an Ischemic stroke) or because of a broken blood vessel (a Hemorrhagic stroke).
What Is Aphasia?
If the stroke happens in an area of the brain that controls speech or communication, this can cause aphasia. Aphasia is defined as a language and/or speech impairment. This can affect speech, writing, reading, and general communication.
Types of Aphasia in Stroke Patients
Different forms of aphasia mean that the patient has different difficulties concerning speech and language.
Broca’s aphasia refers to difficulty getting out the right words or sentences longer than 4 words. Formation of words can be difficult, and the speech probably sounds slurred or garbled.
Wernicke’s aphasia patients can get the words out, but they have a hard time discerning the meaning of words. They’ll often say words in sentences that are irrelevant or that don’t make sense.
There are many other aphasia classifications. The general idea with aphasia is that patients have difficulty forming words, saying words properly, and forming complete and grammatical sentences.
Speech therapy can help with speech improvement after a stroke. These are 5 home exercises for stroke patients that can help.
1. Breathing Exercises
A common symptom of aphasia and speech impairment in stroke patients is trouble regulating breathing while speaking. This can cause people to take breaths in the middle of sentences, which makes it difficult to speak at length as well as be understood by listeners.
Doing breathing exercises can help you regulate your breathing while speaking much easier. Practice planning out the breaths you’ll take while speaking. Repeat sentences and breaths to yourself to master when taking a breath is appropriate.
This will help you learn to plan breathing pauses as you relearn how to construct sentences and breathe properly during speech.
2. Tongue Strengthening Exercises
The formation of words is another common symptom of speech impairment in stroke survivors.
Tongue stretches and exercises will strengthen the muscle and make it easier for stroke patients to make the proper sounds to form words. It also helps to strengthen the neural pathways and the “muscle memory” of speech that patients can lose after having a stroke.
One such exercise is sticking the tongue in and out. Simply push out the tongue and leave it out for a few seconds. Pull the tongue back in. Repeat this process multiple times per day.
The tongue can also be strengthened side to side. The patient can also practice touching their tongue to specific areas of the mouth when instructed to better their ability to control the tongue during speech.
3. Practicing Speech Sounds
Making the right sounds and the right words are difficult for aphasia patients. Focused practice on specific sounds and words can be great home exercises for stroke patients.
For example, have the patient practice repeating similar sounds: “Ah, ay, at, al, ack… etc.” Practice saying this set many times in a row before moving to another set. This will exercise the mouth and tongue to practice forming sounds and words.
You should focus on both clarity of the sound (making them as clear and understandable as possible) as well as on the strength (make it loud to strengthen the throat and be understandable).
You can also practice repeating specific words to get the sounds and movements correct. As you improve, you can increase the difficulty of the words you repeat.
4. Naming Pictures
While the physical formation of the words is difficult for some patients, other patients struggle with forming the word that they’re thinking of. In order to strengthen the connection between words and things, you can quiz yourself by looking at pictures and practice saying the word the picture depicts.
This will help you connect images with words in your mind while also helping improve your speech of forming those words. Try repeating the word multiple times to really master the pronunciation and how to form the word with your mouth and tongue muscles.
5. Sentence Practice
Singular word formation isn’t always an issue with stroke patients. But many patients struggle with forming complete and correct sentences.
While you are practicing saying certain words and sounds, you should also try and construct sentences. The can be sentences that you read (if you have maintained reading comprehension post-stroke).
You could also combine this practice with the “naming pictures” exercise. Try and construct a sentence based off of pictures you’re using to practice word formation. The more you practice with sentence formation, the more you’ll be able to link speech to communication post-stroke.
These 5 Speech Therapy Exercises Can Help Stroke Patients
Speech and communication don’t start and stop with saying words. It involves understanding what words to say, how to say them, when to breathe, and how to form full sentences.
Stroke patients can greatly benefit from speech therapy exercises. These can help them relearn how to make sounds, form words, and breathe properly during speech.
If you think that you need help with your speech impairment post-stroke, we can set you up with a free consultation to evaluate your condition and your needs. You can also contact us with any questions you might have about these speech therapy exercises.