Benefits of Speech and Language Therapy for Stroke Patients

April 14, 2023

Middle aged woman talks and smiles at a dinner table

Speech and language are a big part of what makes us human. When we lose our ability to communicate effortlessly—like after a stroke — every part of our lives and emotional health are disrupted.

One of the most common stroke symptoms in up to 30 percent of patients [1] is difficulty with speech and language, known as aphasia. It is most common when the language centers in the left hemisphere of the brain are damaged.

To understand how disruptive aphasia can be, imagine watching a foreign film in a language you don’t know without subtitles. You might also be unable to swallow. And since you have an inability to communicate, listeners treat you as though you have a reduced intellectual capacity, even though your intellect is exactly as it was pre-stroke.

To one degree or another, this is the devastating world a patient with aphasia awakens to after a stroke. It significantly disrupts your life, affecting your career, emotional health, interactions with family and friends and the ability to use any medium that involves speech or language. Fortunately, speech and language therapy can be effective at helping regain verbal comprehension, spoken language, and reading and writing skills.

When should you begin speech therapy after a stroke?

In the days and weeks immediately following a stroke, your brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself and use new areas to take over the function of speech and language. This is called neuroplasticity. With speech therapy to optimize this process, you may regain all or most of the speech and language skills affected by the stroke. Aphasia can be temporary or long-term, but even years after a stroke, you can significantly benefit from speech and language therapy. [2]

You may find speech and language therapy very difficult in the early sessions. Still, studies show that those who receive higher-intensity speech and language therapy have significantly better communication and less severe aphasia than those who receive lower-intensity speech and language therapy.[3]

How a stroke disrupts communication

Communication can be disrupted in 3 ways after a stroke:

  • Cognition: The ability to focus, recall memories, or solve problems
  • Speech: The ability to coordinate the tongue, lips and facial muscles to form words and sounds
  • Language: The ability to understand vocabulary and grammar, including written words

Just one of these areas may be impacted, or all three, depending on the area of the brain damaged by the stroke and the severity of the damage.

How speech therapy helps restore language skills

Through speech and language therapy, you can learn to use your remaining abilities to their fullest, restore as much language ability as possible and find alternative means of communicating where necessary.

The treatment programs created by speech-language pathologists and overseen by board-certified physiatrists at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation consider the amount of impairment, areas of the brain damaged by the stroke, your age and your individual needs, including profession. Impairment-based therapies stimulate specific listening, speaking, writing and reading skills, while communication-based therapies use natural interactions and real-life communication challenges.

Impairment-based speech therapies

With impairment-based speech and language therapies, a speech-language pathologist attempts to repair what you lost in the stroke by focusing on basic structures and functions of language. At its start, this type of therapy is intensive to take advantage of neuroplasticity. Therapies focus you in ways that allow you to comprehend language and improve speech while minimizing your frustration. You’re given homework between sessions that may involve computer programs or apps that help with word-finding and comprehension.

Communication-based speech therapies

Patients with aphasia may be frustrated with reduced communication ability, so you’ll be taught alternate ways of communicating your thoughts and feelings. This kind of therapy may involve group activities or other social approaches to introduce you to social situations and teach you ways to compensate in real-time for your difficulties. These types of therapies don’t directly focus on reducing speech or language deficits; rather, they focus on improving communication success, sometimes in social settings.

Many stroke survivors in speech and language therapy will make fast gains in the weeks and months that follow their stroke. But if you continue to receive speech and language therapies, gains can be made well beyond that time frame.

To learn more about speech therapy at Good Shepherd Rehabilitation, see our speech therapy page or call 1-844-REHAB (7342)

[1] Neurovascular Medicine: Speech and Language In Stroke
[2] Reuters: Intensive Speech Therapy Helps Months After Stroke
[3] Stroke: Speech and Language Therapy for Aphasia After Stroke