speech problems

Being old is not only about gaining wisdom. It’s about dealing with the negative effects of aging. For instance, seniors can have difficulty with their physical health and mental capabilities. 

One underrated thing caregivers can come across is speech problems associated with age. A 2023 report suggests that 18.79% of seniors had voice disorders. 

With age, people lose their ability to communicate and speak effectively. While this is a normal aging process, it can be scary for caregivers to see their loved ones slowly deteriorate. Underlying medical conditions can also lead to speech and language problems. 

It can lead older adults to lose the ability to carry on long conversations and express their needs verbally. Understanding these challenges can help caregivers offer appropriate support and treatment.

In this blog, we will discuss everything caregivers must know about speech problems in the elderly.

Does Speech Deteriorate With Age?

It’s not a surprise that aging changes the body in multiple ways. For instance, the senior’s ability to perform strenuous physical activities slows down. 

Everyone is aware of physical changes like loss of eyesight, low range of motion, etc. However, some changes can happen without anyone’s knowledge. The loss of speaking ability can often take people by surprise and significantly affect their quality of life.

A senior loses their ability to speak because of weakening muscles in the throat and jaw. On top of that, they might also experience glandular or tissue changes. The larynx gets affected, leading to inadequate muscle flexibility or cartilage support. 

A combination of these factors leads to a change in speech and language. Their voices might become shaky, hoarse, and pitchy. Underlying conditions like dementia or hearing loss can also lead to such issues.

But what happens when an older adult cannot effectively describe their needs? In that case, their pain and discomfort won’t be treated or addressed. 

These individuals won’t be able to find pleasure and enjoyment in the things they used to do before. Yes, speech problems can affect their ability to socialize with their families and friends. They’ll become reclusive and withdrawn, leading to lashing-out behavior, anger, etc.

Are There Any Medical Reasons Leading to Speech Problems?

Processing thoughts, speaking, and listening can become difficult as someone grows older. Other than aging, underlying medical factors can also lead to speech-related problems. Some of them include the following: 

#1. Aphasia: A Communication Disorder

This communication disorder can interfere with an older adult’s ability to write, understand language, and speak. Aphasia occurs when the brain’s language-processing function gets damaged. It’s usually common among elders who have suffered a stroke. 

Thankfully, caregivers can use speech therapy to help seniors bring back their verbal communication skills. Someone with a speech language pathology degree will help older adults improve their speech and language processing abilities. 

Candidates pursuing this degree undergo rigorous practical training in a clinical and academic setting. That’s why they’re able to correctly assess, diagnose, and prevent cognitive communication-related issues. According to Ithaca College, the speech-language pathologist job role is the fastest-growing in America. 

A well-trained graduate with this degree will use physical exercises to train the facial muscles. They’ll also ask the senior to perform mental exercises to help overcome self-esteem issues. 

#2. Dementia and Dysarthria

Reports state that 6.7 million seniors are living with Alzheimer’s disease in America. This type of dementia significantly affects their perception of speech and information processing. It also affects their neurological system and deteriorates their ability to express their thoughts verbally. 

As a solution, caregivers can focus on music therapy to help the seniors convey emotion. Music can help dementia patients communicate with their loved ones. Similarly, medication can help improve a senior’s mental ability to retain memory, think, and concentrate. These include memantine and cholinesterase inhibitors. 

Similarly, dysarthria occurs when the tongue, face, and lip muscles weaken. Usually, it’s prevalent among seniors with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms include slurred speech and sloppy sentences. 

A senior with dysarthria will feel frustrated and vulnerable. That’s why caregivers should be patient with these individuals and do everything in their power to communicate.

#3. Hearing and Vision Loss

Seniors can develop hearing loss as they age. Unfortunately, their inability to hear others can become an obstacle that deteriorates their communication abilities. In some cases, it can also impact their comfort and confidence in having conversations. 

That’s why caregivers should look for hearing loss symptoms and take the senior to an audiologist. They’ll prescribe hearing aids to make it easier for the older adult to communicate. The doctors might also mention new tactics if the hearing loss is too severe. 

Similar to hearing impairment, sensory changes can prevent seniors from talking. For instance, major and minor vision loss can interfere with their ability to hold conversations and pick up social cues. 

Therefore, caregivers should check for cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other diseases. These eye conditions can lead to a decrease in independence and social isolation. 

Visiting a medical professional will help correct these issues. They’ll prescribe medication or perform surgeries to help seniors get their vision back. Doing so will eventually bring back their confidence and alleviate speech issues.

Other Ways to Help Older Adults Communicate

If the speech problem cannot be reversed, caregivers must find other communication strategies. These include the following:

  • Using body language to express the meaning behind each sentence
  • Employing non-verbal cues like nodding and smiling 
  • Looking at the senior’s physical movements to gauge responses

Other than these, caregivers can use assistive devices to facilitate communication. These include tablets, written notes, photo books, etc. Group support sessions and art therapy can also help seniors communicate without verbal cues. 

In conclusion, anyone in their late 50s and early 60s can develop speech problems. While it’s a normal part of aging, caregivers must understand its challenges and find solutions. 

Sometimes, the causes of speech problems can be solved by medication and alternative therapy methods. Caregivers can also teach the seniors different ways of communicating without verbal cues. Doing so will help them express their feelings without being frustrated.