Stuttering is often thought of as something that mainly affects younger people. But seniors living in Mt. Vernon and elsewhere are beginning to learn they also could be susceptible to stuttering, whether they receive palliative care or other forms of support.
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care makes it a point to be familiar with current research into stuttering among seniors so employees can be a useful resource for patients, their families, and any caregivers.
They can explain what may be happening and some possible strategies for treating it, if there are any.
Any advice can also be done with helpful intent, since stuttering, whatever age it happens, can make people feel self-conscious or anxious. They may feel frustrated that they can’t communicate as well as they used to, or even saying a simple phrase can become a difficult, even embarrassing challenge, sometimes leaving people not wanting to say anything at all.
Constant stuttering can even lead to physical changes in the face, mouth or jaw along with different voice tones and pronunciations.
Likewise, people with a new stutterer in their life may not be sure how to interact with them. There is a natural tendency to be impatient and finish someone’s sentences for them, but this can make the stutterer uncomfortable.
About 5 percent of the 2-5 age group is likely to develop a stutter, according to Healthline. But in many cases, these go away after a child becomes more comfortable speaking and is able to spend more time around people who don’t have stutters
Common reasons for stuttering
Generally, there are three types of stuttering behavior:
- Developmental, which is connected to a new language;
- Psychogenic, which is connected to thinking and reasoning; and
- Neurogenic, which could be connected to physical changes in the brain, nerves, and muscles.
Seniors who begin to stutter later in life after not doing so earlier in life may do so for several possible reasons.
- Brain changes. Seniors may begin to stutter often due to neurogenic reasons. Perhaps a stroke has altered areas of their brain that control language processing and correct formulation of words. Perhaps a fall or bump may have caused a concussion or other mental conditions.
- Confusion. Advanced forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, may make it difficult to form or arrange words. This goes beyond “tip of one’s tongue” to aphasia, which is not being able to construct full sentences to find the right words.
- Emotional difficulties/return of past anxieties. Some of the other concerns of getting older may combine to make someone feel terrible emotionally, everything from financial anxieties to declining health can trigger difficulties expressing oneself or finding the proper words. Someone who may have stuttered as a child may see it return decades later if similar feelings of confusion, uncertainty, anxiety, and loneliness are present. This theory was suggested in a 2010 study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s National Institutes of Health.
- Medication changes. A stutter or unusual changes in diction or speaking patterns could be a side effect of certain pharmaceuticals, something that seniors may be taking more of than they did earlier in life.
- Mechanical changes. Problems with or injuries to the mouth, teeth, jaw or gums may also result in an inability to form words. This can include cysts, tumors or other obstructions that can cause pain.
Though loved ones or caregivers may notice a stutter when it begins occurring, it may be difficult to figure out why it may be appearing.
A more accurate diagnosis may be required from a primary care provider or a specialist who is familiar with the workings of the brain or possibly a speech therapist.
The different diagnoses and treatment options may be based on whether the problem is physical or mental.
Learn more in October
This month is an excellent time to discuss current stuttering-related trends and learn about or participate in activities. Oct. 22 has been designated as International Stuttering Awareness Day. Since 1998, this has been a project supported by a variety of stuttering-related organizations, including the International Stuttering Association, the European League of Stuttering Associations and the International Fluency Association.
These organizations also support the International Project On Attitudes Toward Stuttering, which is charged with researching different types of stuttering and even if there are differences between countries and cultures. The International Stuttering Association encourages everyone to be more aware of stutterers all around the world, which can be exciting and stimulating especially if someone sometimes feels alone and that they’re the only one dealing with a stutterer. The ISA also typically puts on an annual conference that brings together stutterers from around the planet.
Overall, the team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care is happy to help educate patients and their families about stuttering, including making observations that can be communicated to a provider or specialist. It also can connect patients to a speech therapist who can visit regularly to help everything from strengthening muscles to put together speech drills.