Helping People with ALS Communicate

Many ALS patients have stated that losing the ability to speak is the worst part of the disease. The power of speech is something most of us take for granted, even though it is a crucially important tool that keeps us connected with others.

In the early stages of ALS, some patients may begin to lose their speech partially. In the later stages of the disease, speech my be lost entirely. Our speech is controlled by muscles in the lips, tongue and vocal cords. When those muscles are lost to ALS, speech is lost as well.

It is a good idea to begin planning for the time when speech will be lost when speaking is still possible

Speech-language pathologists specialize in communication disorders, and can help a person with ALS make the best use of the muscles they have available for speaking.

Writing implements are a low-tech communication solution for some ALS patients. Note pads, dry erase boards, chalk boards and kid’s magic slates are all useful. Though, writing may not be effective communication tool for everyone, as many people in the later stages of ALS lose their ability to use the muscles in their fingers to write before they lose the ability to speak. A low-tech solution for that could be a pointer and a board with letters and phrases to point at. Communication boards can made at home or purchased from medical supply companies.

Higher tech communication solutions involve computers. Text-to-speech programs can help communication greatly. Computers can be improved with “word prediction” software that allows whole words and phrases to be typed with one key stroke. As ALS progresses, a computer “switch” will probably be necessary. A “switch” lets the user interact with the computer with any part of the body they can move – mouth, forehead, eyeblink, foot, etc.

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