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Tip Of My Tongue: How A Stroke Can Affect Speech Patterns

Have you ever had the feeling that you couldn't remember the word you were just trying to say? Or maybe you are trying to remember someone's name. You struggle against your brain, hoping that you will win the fight and the word will come tumbling out of your mouth. No matter how much you grapple with the grey matter that resides beneath your skull, nothing reaches your lips. The word dies as it becomes fully formed, and you feel embarrassed by your lapse in mental acuity.

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Once in a while this can happen to anyone, for a multitude of reasons. It may just be a simple case of a word being lost in our scramble to remember it. Or think about reporter Serene Branson's on-air episode in 2011 in which she had problems forming coherent sentences because of a "complex migraine." In these instances, losing the ability to communicate with words is temporary.

But what if this was a problem that you had to live with? What if every time you opened your mouth to communicate only a jumble of words spilled forth? What if you couldn't formulate coherent thoughts? What if you could no longer understand the words printed in a book, magazine or a newspaper? What would you do then? Some stroke survivors face challenges like these.

When an individual suffers a stroke, they can do so in one of two ways. The first way is ischemic, where a person has a stoppage in the flow of blood to their brain due to a blockage. The second form of a stroke is called hemorrhagic and occurs when a blood vessel pops and blood leaks into the brain or floods the areas around the brain cavity. Without the oxygen that is transferred through the flow of blood, brain cells die off. When this occurs, people may exhibit symptoms such as slurred or impaired speech, confusion, numbness or weakness, problems with vision in one or both eyes, and headaches.

It's a scary thing about strokes: you can identify certain factors causing susceptibility to stroke, and work to reduce those risks, but sometimes stroke affects people who are in excellent physical shape. Former New England Patriots player Tedy Bruschi recalls waking up one morning "with sort of a pain in the back of my neck. I sat up in bed and the left side of my arm and my leg felt funny. There was some numbness, almost like a loss of control." It wasn't until he realized that he could hear his son with his left ear but couldn't see him with his left eye that Bruschi knew that something was wrong. Doctors confirmed he had experienced a mild stroke, probably due to a heart condition.

ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso suffered a stroke in 2009 that made him unable to speak and limited the use of his right arm. Corso's inability to speak was related to a condition called aphasia, and about 30 percent of people who have a stroke experience this disorder.

Aphasia is a product of brain damage, and in the case of stroke is caused by lack of oxygen. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) identifies four categories of aphasia. Individuals with the first type, expressive aphasia, have difficulty in communicating through spoken or written words. The second type, receptive aphasia, involves being unable to understand spoken or written words. Anomic/amnesia aphasia, the third kind, is the least severe. People with this type cannot recall/use the correct name for persons, places, objects and/or events. The last form of this disorder is global aphasia, and is the worst, most extensive kind, causing people to lose most of their comprehension and ability to speak and write.

After his stroke, Corso was able to rehabilitate his affected speech patterns and return to ESPN as an analyst. How could he do this? Stroke survivors with aphasia can receive help from speech pathologists. These professionals work with patients of all ages to help combat language comprehension and communication problems. They use many different techniques, for example, methods that utilize the side of the brain that hasn't been affected by stroke. For most people, the language center of the brain is located on the left hemisphere. In that case, speech pathologists may use music to help rebuild communication abilities in their patients, since the part of the brain that works with music is located on the right hemisphere. Not all speech problems can be fixed, but speech pathologists do their best to help individuals overcome these disorders.

About the Author:

Jamar Ramos has been writing poetry and fiction for many years, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For the last three years, Mr. Ramos switched to producing blog posts for CBSSports.com and writing professionally as an independent contributor for a number of Internet sites. His creative works have been featured in The Bohemian and The San Matean. He now contributes articles for OnlineDegrees.com, OnlineColleges.com, and AlliedHealthWorld.com.