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What is dysarthria?

Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder. It results from impaired movement of the muscles used for speech production, including the lips, tongue, vocal folds, and/or diaphragm. The type and severity of dysarthria depend on which area of the nervous system is affected.

What are some signs or symptoms of dysarthria?

A person with dysarthria may demonstrate the following speech characteristics:

  • "Slurred," "choppy," or "mumbled" speech that may be difficult to understand
  • Slow rate of speech
  • Rapid rate of speech with a "mumbling" quality
  • Limited tongue, lip, and jaw movement
  • Abnormal pitch and rhythm when speaking
  • Changes in voice quality, such as hoarse or breathy voice or speech that sounds "nasal" or "stuffy"

What causes dysarthria?

Dysarthria is caused by damage to the brain. This may occur at birth, as in cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, or may occur later in life due to one of many different conditions that involve the nervous system, including

  • stroke,
  • brain injury,
  • tumors,
  • Parkinson's disease,
  • Lou Gehrig's disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),
  • Huntington's disease,
  • multiple sclerosis.

How common is dysarthria?

There are no known data about the incidence of dysarthria in the general population, because of the broad variety of possible causes.

What are the types of dysarthria?

Find an explanation and definitions of the many types of dysarthria online at The Neuroscience on the Web Series.

How is dysarthria diagnosed?

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can evaluate a person with speech difficulties and determine the nature and severity of the problem. The SLP will look at movement of the lips, tongue, and face, as well as breath support for speech and voice quality. The assessment will also include an examination of speech production in a variety of contexts.

What treatment is available for people with dysarthria?

Treatment depends on the cause, type, and severity of the symptoms. An SLP works with the individual to improve communication abilities. Some possible goals of treatment include:

  • Slowing the rate of speech
  • Improving the breath support so the person can speak more loudly
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Increasing tongue and lip movement
  • Improving speech sound production so that speech is more clear
  • Teaching caregivers, family members, and teachers strategies to better communicate with the person with dysarthria
  • In severe cases, learning to use alternative means of communication (e.g., simple gestures, alphabet boards, or electronic or computer-based equipment)

How effective are speech-language pathology treatments for dysarthria?

ASHA produced a treatment efficacy summary on dysarthria [PDF] that describes evidence about how well treatment works. This summary is useful not only to individuals with dysarthria and their caregivers but also to insurance companies considering payment for much needed services for dysarthria.

What can I do to communicate better with a person with dysarthria?

It is important for both the person with dysarthria and the people he or she communicates with to work together to improve interactions. Here are some tips for both speaker and listener.

Tips for the Person With Dysarthria

  • Introduce your topic with a single word or short phrase before beginning to speak in more complete sentences.
  • Check with the listeners to make sure that they understand you.
  • Speak slowly and loudly and pause frequently.
  • Try to limit conversations when you feel tired—when your speech will be harder to understand.
  • If you become frustrated, try to use other methods, such as pointing or gesturing, to get your message across or take a rest and try again later.

Children may need additional help to remember to use these strategies.

Tips for the Listener

  • Reduce distractions and background noise.
  • Pay attention to the speaker.
  • Watch the person as he or she talks.
  • Let the speaker know when you have difficulty understanding him or her.
  • Repeat only the part of the message that you understood so that the speaker does not have to repeat the entire message.
  • If you still don't understand the message, ask yes/no questions or have the speaker write his or her message to you.

What other organizations have information on dysarthria and services for people with dysarthria?

This list is not exhaustive and inclusion does not imply endorsement of the organization or content of the Web site by ASHA.