Ataxic dysarthria is a speech disorder caused by damage to the cerebellum or the pathways it uses to exchange information with the rest of the nervous system and body. A patient with this condition has difficulty speaking because the fine motor control needed to articulate words is lacking. Those affected can sound intoxicated and may have explosive or harsh speech. They also typically have other motor skills problems which can make it hard to walk and perform tasks with their hands that require a fine degree of coordination.
This condition can occur after strokes, head injuries, tumors, and other conditions involving the cerebellum. The extent of the damage may be assessed through neurological examinations as well as medical imaging studies of the brain to look directly at the cerebellum and surrounding structures. Patients with ataxic dysarthria may need years of physical and speech therapy to develop skills. Some can experience a full recovery, while others may always have slightly slurred, slow speech.
Signs of ataxic dysarthria can include very slow speech; this can include a pause between syllables, as well as slurring between syllables because the patient has trouble making crisp sounds. People also tend to use equal stresses, rather than the rising and falling tones commonly heard in speech. It can be difficult for the patient to communicate with people who are not familiar with the unusual speech patterns of ataxic dysarthria; for example, knowing where the stress word falls in a sentence can be critical to understanding the meaning.
In speech therapy, the patient can work with a coach on developing muscle strength and coordination. Vocal exercises can help, as can coaching in a relaxed environment where the patient doesn’t experience pressure to talk quickly and clearly enough to keep up with a conversation. People may have exercises to do at home as well as in sessions with their therapists. The speech-language pathologist’s work may also help the patient eat and breathe more comfortably, as these skills can be affected by cerebellar damage as well.
Recovery rates from ataxic dysarthria vary, depending on the nature of the injury, the patient’s individual brain, and the level of commitment to treatment. Patients who aggressively pursue treatment and adhere to a plan can experience better outcomes, especially if they are supported by friends and family. They may also need separate therapy for other coordination problems caused by the cerebellar damage, such as trouble walking.