Speech and swallowing

Speech and swallowing

Speech problems
Between 40-50% of people living with MS experience speech difficulties at one point in their condition. Speech difficulties may come and go throughout the day and can appear during a relapse. Speech changes are often mild and don’t stop people from being understood. 

Problems with speech can include:

Speech and swallowing
  • Slurred or slower speech
  • A weaker voice and lower volume
  • Long pauses between words
  • Finding it difficult to find the right words 

Swallowing problems
Having trouble swallowing, sometimes called dysphagia, is experienced by approximately one third of people living with MS. Problems with swallowing can include:

  • Difficulty chewing
  • Food getting stuck in your throat
  • Food or drink coming back up
  • Feeling like your food is going down slowly
  • Coughing when or after you eat
  • Excess saliva
Managing speech problems

You may be referred to a speech and language therapist who will try to work out exactly what your speech problem is. Muscle stiffness or spasms can cause speech problems and there may be treatments that can help to manage these symptoms. Your therapist may teach you a number of exercises, which could work on strengthening certain muscles or to improve the movement of your jaw, tongue or lips. They might also help you find easier ways of saying things, such as using shorter phrases.

Here are some tips that might help:

  • Make use of technology – try raising the volume on your phone and for times when you don’t feel able to speak try email or text
  • Don’t try to compete with other noises – if you need to say something turn the TV or the radio down
  • Make sure you have the full attention of the person you’re talking to 
  • Don’t worry if you have to repeat things
  • Try to communicate face to face when you can, body language can be a big help
  • If you can’t think of a word write a note of what you’re trying to say and come back to it later
  • Giving yourself more time can help you to find the right word and can make it easier for people to understand what you’re saying

Speech

Managing swallowing problems

You may also be referred to a speech and language therapist if you have problems swallowing. As swallowing is quite a complicated process, they will try to work out which part is not working properly and will suggest some ways that will help. These could include:

  • Keeping a good posture while you eat and for 30 minutes after you’ve eaten
  • Eating in a relaxed atmosphere to help your muscles work better
  • Not rushing – eating slowly can help you to concentrate
  • Chewing well
  • Having a drink between mouthfuls
  • Avoiding speaking whilst eating
  • Sticking to foods that are the right texture for you
Useful links