Speech disorders are fairly common in MS. Speech patterns are controlled by many areas in the brain, especially the brainstem. Lesions (damaged areas) in different parts of the brain can cause several types of changes in normal speech patterns. They range from mild difficulties to severe problems that make it difficult to speak and be understood. Medically, speech disorders are called dysarthrias.
One pattern that is commonly associated with MS is so-called scanning speech. Scanning dysarthria produces speech in which the normal "melody" or speech pattern is disrupted, with abnormally long pauses between words or individual syllables of words.
People with MS may also slur words. This is usually the result of weakness and/or incoordination of the muscles of the tongue, lips, cheeks and mouth.
Other speech problems include nasal speech, which sounds as though the person has a cold or nasal obstruction.
Dysarthrias are commonly associated with other symptoms caused by lesions in the brainstem. These include tremor, head shaking or incoordination.
Many people can be aided by a speech/language pathologist, who can evaluate and help to improve speech patterns, enunciation and oral communication in general.
If a person with MS becomes unable to speak, there are many assistive devices available. These range from alphabet cards to hand-held communicators that print out a tape, to computers that respond to eyeblinks.
Many persons with dysarthria also have dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing). Speech therapists are trained to evaluate, diagnose and relieve these problems.