Speech and Swallowing Issues in ALS

Many persons with ALS notice changes to speech. This is caused by nerve degeneration, specifically to the nerves responsible for speech. Dysarthria is the motor speech disorder found in ALS. Patients and their families often describe speech as “slurred” or “slow,” while others will say “nasal” or “weak.”

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Many persons with ALS notice changes to swallow function and/or weight loss. Dysphagia is the swallow disorder found in ALS. As swallowing changes, it becomes important to understand the reasons why your doctor, speech-language pathologist (SLP), and dietitian may endorse a feeding tube.

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What you should know…

Changes to speech can occur because of ALS. "Banking” your voice can preserve it at its best quality.

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About 25% of people diagnosed with ALS have bulbar onset which strikes the brainstem’s corticobulbar area.This section controls muscles in the face, neck and head. Bulbar onset usually affects voice and swallowing first. 

Subjects covered in this section

Many persons with ALS notice changes to swallow function. Dysphagia is the swallow disorder found in ALS. As swallowing changes, it becomes important to make adjustments to the ways you swallow and the types of foods and liquids you eat and drink.

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Many people with ALS will have difficulty talking over time. Losing the ability to speak is frustrating and overwhelming.  A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help you to continue to communicate with augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) options.

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For many persons with ALS, keeping the mouth clean becomes more difficult over time. Brushing your teeth may be harder due to weakness. You may need help from family, friends, or health care workers. You may also feel that you have more saliva.

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