How Speech Pathologists Support People With Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is the most common acquired chronic neurological disease affecting young adults in Australia. Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure. While the symptoms of MS vary from person to person, the disease is known to cause changes in movement, sensation, and cognition that can impact everyday life. This is where Speech Pathologists come in!

Speech Pathologists are one of many healthcare professionals that can provide support and advocate for individuals with MS throughout the course of their condition. Keep on reading to find out more about how Speech Pathologists support people with Multiple Sclerosis. 

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic neurological disease caused by the immune system attacking the protective covering of nerves (myelin) in the brain and spinal cord. This covering is best described using the analogy of the insulation around electrical wire – when the covering is damaged, signals transmitted are slowed or blocked. This slowing or blocking of nerve signals in the brain and spinal cord can cause changes in the way an individual is able to move and respond to sensation. It can also cause difficulties in cognition, sometimes resulting in fatigue, visual and cognitive problems.

MS is typically diagnosed between the ages of 20 to 40. Most people with the condition experience what’s known as a ‘relapsing-remitting’ cycle, whereby their symptoms increase rapidly during ‘flare ups’ before decreasing, leading to changeable symptoms that can be difficult to anticipate. It’s therefore important that people with MS have the support of a team of professionals to help them manage their symptoms and access appropriate support as their condition changes.

How Can Speech Pathologists Support People with Multiple Sclerosis?

Due to the nerve damage that can occur in people with Multiple Sclerosis, they can often experience changes in their ability to swallow and communicate. These are two areas that Speech Pathologists can assist with directly.

Swallowing Difficulties and Multiple Sclerosis

Did you know that we use 26 muscles and many nerves to coordinate our muscles to safely swallow foods and drinks? As you can imagine, with the extensive and variable nerve damage that can occur in people with MS, individuals often experience difficulty swallowing. 

While these difficulties are as different for each individual as their MS symptoms, Speech Pathologists are well equipped to provide support through individualised assessment and management of swallowing. Speech Pathologists often work alongside people with MS throughout the course of their condition (including phases of relapse and remittance) to adapt mealtime management plan recommendations to ensure the individual can always access safe and enjoyable mealtime experiences.

Communication Difficulties and Multiple Sclerosis

The damage caused by MS can also contribute to changes in the way a person communicates. This can include symptoms like slurred speech, stuttering, and even word-finding difficulties. 

Speech Pathologists can provide individualised assessment and treatment for different communication challenges associated with MS, supporting the individual to be able to communicate their wants, needs, and advocate for themselves and their care. Speech Pathologists will often support the client with regular assessment and report writing to ensure that the person has access to the support they need throughout the course of their condition. 

At Speak and Swallow, we are passionate about supporting adults living with Multiple Sclerosis to interact, eat, and live with confidence, dignity and joy. We are dedicated to providing our clients, their families and carers with professional care and personalised support to overcome, ease and manage these challenges and assist our clients to experience tangible improvements to their quality of life.

We hope you’ve found this guide to how Speech Pathologists support people with Multiple Sclerosis helpful. To learn more about what Speech Pathologists do, have a read of our other article about what to expect in speech therapy for adults.

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