Communication, Swallowing Disorders Common in Adults Following Stroke and Other Illness

Residents Encouraged to Learn the Signs, Seek Help This Better Hearing & Speech Month

With speech, language, and swallowing disorders common following stroke, head and neck cancer, and a variety of other illnesses and injuries in adults, Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber (CSSMCW) Speech-Language Pathologist Shannon Butler encourages residents to learn the signs—and seek an evaluation—if they have concerns about themselves or a loved one. This is a timely message, as May is recognized nationally as Better Hearing & Speech Month.

“Many people may not appreciate their ability to communicate until it’s lost,” said Butler. “From having your basic needs met to nurturing relationships and earning a living, communication is at the core.”

Speech and language problems in adults can result from various causes. They include brain injury, stroke, and diseases that affect the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. They can also stem from breathing problems, cancers in the head and/or neck region, and voice damage.

Speech and language disorders that may be acquired in adulthood include the following:
Aphasia. This involves problems speaking, understanding, reading, writing, telling time, and/or using numbers. Often misunderstood, aphasia does not affect a person’s intelligence. The most common cause of aphasia is stroke.
Cognitive-communication disorders. Problems with thinking and communication can affect each other. Some examples are difficulty paying attention, remembering, organizing thoughts, and solving problems.
Apraxia of speech. Speech difficulties arise from problems planning motor movements. It is caused by damage to the parts of the brain that are involved in speaking.
Dysarthria. Speech difficulties (e.g., slurred speech) due to weakness of muscles involved in breathing and/or speaking.
Voice disorders. Changes in pitch, loudness, and vocal quality that negatively impact communication. These may result from nodules on the vocal cord, overuse/misuse of voice (e.g., yelling), diseases such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, and other causes.

Speech-language pathologists can help adults with these and other communication problems.

“May is also a time to spotlight swallowing disorders, called dysphagia, which too are treated by speech-language pathologists,” Butler added. “Dysphagia is another common side effect of numerous diseases in adults. A person’s ability to eat and drink is critical to maintaining good health and promoting recovery from illness. Food is also a central part of many social experiences—contributing to an enjoyable and fulfilling life. Treatment can be truly transformative to a person’s quality of life and overall health.”

Speech-language pathologists treat dysphagia in various ways, including these:
• Helping people use their muscles to chew and swallow
• Finding better positions for people to sit or hold their head while eating
• Identifying strategies to make swallowing better and safer
• Advising people on their dietary choices, including softer foods or thicker drinks

To schedule an assessment with Shannon Butler, MS, CCC/SLP or Lindsay Knipple, SLP, please contact CSSMCW’s Speech Therapy Department at 814-467-3189.

About Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber
Founded in 1906, Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber (CSSMCW) is an independent, non-profit acute care hospital in northern Somerset County, bordering Cambria County. The 54-bed hospital shares a campus and collaborates with Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber (CSSIMMW), a private, non-profit biomedical research center. With more than 450 employees, CSSMCW is the fourth largest employer in Somerset County. CSSMCW’s mission is to provide excellence in personalized, quality health care services through innovation, research and education in response to community needs. For more information visit