Brain Injuries and Speech Disorders

Michael Fraas Professor

Traumatic brain injuries have an insidious way of disrupting just about every aspect of life – from how you walk and move to the ways you communicate. Perhaps one of the most well-known effects of a brain injury is the sudden onset of speech disorders shortly after the initial trauma. Professor Michael Fraas explains that from dysarthria to aphasia and apraxia of speech, traumatic injury can greatly affect how you communicate.

Today’s post will discuss how brain injuries can lead to sudden-onset speech disorders and explore some of the more common examples. If you know of someone who has recently suffered a brain injury, this information may be of use as they start their journey towards recovery.

The Link Between Brain Injuries and Speech Disorders

The brain is, without a doubt, the most complex organ in the human body. Its interconnected network of millions of neurons processes information and transmutes it into meaningful perceptions of the world around us. Yet, despite the many advances in scientific research, much of the brain’s activity remains a mystery.

What we do know, though, is that several regions of the brain are responsible for generating and processing language. Wernicke’s area is a region of the left posterior superior temporal gyrus composed of motor neurons that interpret and comprehend speech and language. Meanwhile, Broca’s area, located in the left inferior frontal gyrus of the brain, regulates the production of language and speech sounds.

If either of these regions is damaged during a traumatic injury, the brain will struggle to interpret and produce speech, leading to noticeable speech disorders.

Common Speech Disorders Associated with Traumatic Brain Injury

It’s important to note that not all brain injuries will lead to speech and language disorders. The injury must have affected a particular region of the brain that regulates or interprets speech and language. Nevertheless, there are a handful of disorders that are well-known to be associated with traumatic brain injuries. These include:

  • Dysarthria – Dysarthria is a motor speech disorder caused by damage to the muscles or nerves responsible for producing speech sounds. This can result in slurred or distorted speech.
  • Aphasia – Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage to the areas of the brain responsible for processing language. This can result in difficulty understanding speech, difficulty producing speech, and difficulty with using and understanding language.
  • Apraxia – Apraxia of speech is another motor-speech disorder caused by damage to the areas of the brain responsible for planning and producing speech sounds. This can result in difficulty producing sounds and difficulty putting words together in a meaningful way.
Michael Fraas Professor

Fortunately, there are available treatments for these disorders, including speech therapy, occupational therapy, and medications. The prognosis for a person with a speech or language disorder may vary by individual. However, intense therapies under the guidance of a trained clinician have been shown to be effective at mitigating the effects of speech and language disorders.

Final Thoughts

Traumatic brain injuries, including physical trauma, strokes, and aneurysms, can lead to awful outcomes, such as long-term speech and language disorders. This is especially true if the injuries affect Wernicke’s or Broca’s areas of the brain. With time, though, a trained speech therapist can help a patient restore their previous abilities and learn to speak again.

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