Spinocerebellar Ataxia is a genetic condition that affects a patient\’s ability to conduct voluntary movements like standing, walking, or speaking. Medical advances in treatment and therapy options now enable patients to live a highly functional life. In particular, Speech Therapy has consistently enabled patients to speak intelligibly and swallow safely, helping them get the requisite nutrition, while also participating actively in society. Here, we offer a brief introduction to the role of Speech Therapy in Spinocerebellar Ataxia treatment.
Understanding Spinocerebellar Ataxia
Spinocerebellar Ataxia, Spinocerebellar Atrophy, or Spinocerebellar Degeneration is a genetic disease caused by either a recessive or dominant gene. It refers to a group of ataxias that are known to be hereditary and cause harm to the cerebellum. This part of the brain maintains balance and controls movements. Spinocerebellar Ataxia may result in non-coordinated gait, impaired hand-eye coordination, and abnormal speech. Since this condition affects the nervous system, it is known as a nervous disorder.
Spinocerebellar Ataxia can be inherited in an autosomal dominant or autosomal recessive fashion. There are several types of Spinocerebellar Ataxia, but common symptoms among all include poor coordination and balance, involuntary movements, spasticity, and speech and swallowing problems. A tailored neuro-rehabilitation program can help manage symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve quality of life.
How Speech Therapy benefits Spinocerebellar Ataxia patients
Dysarthria and dysphagia are two of the most common symptoms of Spinocerebellar Ataxia. Nerve signals to the mouth and neck muscles get disrupted as a result of brain damage, leading to slurred speech, softened tone, and trouble swallowing.
Speech Therapy with a professional therapist can help improve the patient\’s capabilities in speech, communication, and swallowing. Based on the patient\’s current abilities and needs, the therapist will coach them in a variety of exercises to improve control over the muscles in the mouth, jaw, tongue, and throat. Some treatment methods could include:
- Speaking slowly so that each word is intelligible
- Employing breathing techniques to improve speech quality
- Altering posture while speaking to maintain an even and audible voice quality
- Playing word games to improve language processing skills
- Exercises that trigger the swallowing reflex to enable safe swallowing
For those with advanced ataxia, the therapist can teach them how to use speech aids to communicate, such as a laptop linked to a voice synthesizer. The speech therapist may also recommend special diets including blended foods and meals with soft textures.
Speech Therapy is recommended as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program to manage Spinocerebellar Ataxia symptoms. Other components of the program will usually include:
- Physiotherapy to improve muscle strength, overall stability, core strength, balance, and coordination
- Adaptive devices such as walkers or wheelchairs to improve balance and enable safe mobility
- Occupational Therapy to help the patient complete daily activities of living on their own
- Counseling, to help manage the stress of living with a neurological condition
- Stem Cell Therapy, a form of regenerative therapy that uses the patient\’s own cells to replace the brain and nerve cells damaged by Spinocerebellar Ataxia
Living with Spinocerebellar Ataxia can be tough, but modern treatment methods can significantly improve one’s quality of life. With regular Speech Therapy, the patient can learn to speak clearly, communicate their needs and feelings, and eat the foods they love safely. In addition, taking the support of loved ones and engaging in activities one enjoys will help the patient navigate this challenging journey more fruitfully.