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As a Word Nerd, MS-related Dysarthria Has Been a Challenge

Columnist Jennifer Powell writes about experiencing the speech disorder dysarthria, and how she’s trying to make light of the distressing situation.

I have always prided myself on my smarts. I excelled in college, where I realized my love for learning. I enjoy conversing with others, and I make a concerted effort to expand my horizons.

I have never shied away from an opportunity to make another’s acquaintance. Be it current events, literature, or travel, I am quite adept at holding my own. That said, I have noticed myself having great difficulty culling facts and finding the right words. I am unable to articulate intelligibly and my speed of speech has slowed considerably. What does come out is a poor representation of my thought process.

Some people with multiple sclerosis may develop a speech impediment, as neuromuscular atrophy associated with demyelination can cause dysarthria. Many with dysarthria slur or stutter and can have difficulty with enunciation, articulation, and flow.

Dysphonia often accompanies dysarthria and the two are easily confused. Dysphonia refers more to volume, resonance, and tone quality. Dysarthria and dysphonia can coexist.

I developed dysarthria shortly before new and active lesions were found. I originally attributed my wonky speech to fatigue or medication. Unfortunately, it was due to progression. As a self-described word nerd and someone who relies on her vocabulary to write, this was devastating. I still find it incredibly frustrating and will often shy away from conversations I once thrived on having.

I am embarrassed. I feel not-so-smart.

Witnessing the deterioration of my most prided trait has been humbling. I precisely envision what I want to communicate, yet something completely different emerges. I see the sympathetic look in others’ eyes as I try in vain to find my words. As the seconds tick by, I often will just laugh and admit defeat in an effort to disguise my chagrin.

There is a myriad of therapies available. Speech, swallow, and vocal therapists can help you strengthen what you do have. Like any body part, it is imperative to revive the movement to reduce further atrophy. Additionally, breath control can help give you the stamina necessary to speak with more fluidity. Speak with your neurologist about potential therapies for your specific needs.

I just answered the telephone and attempted to say good morning. What came out was the equivalent to an animal in pain. They hung up. I laughed. Hey, maybe I inadvertently turned away a solicitor for good?

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