There are a lot of ways seniors in Encino and elsewhere can prepare themselves for getting older, such as arranging in-home care and taking time to exercise their bodies and brains. But not everyone expects they’ll develop a stutter.
At Accredited Home Care, we’ve seen all sorts of health conditions in our clients that can include physical and mental changes. Some are anticipated, some can be prevented or minimized, and some can come as a surprise.
A stutter or stammer is often one of those unexpected things. Some mental or physical conditions can cause changes to how the brain processes words and thoughts or how the body expresses them.
Stuttering can be a new condition for some seniors or a behavior that may have been observed in childhood but for some reason, it re-emerged decades later.
Although developing a stutter may not directly affect one’s physical health, it can cause a high degree of discomfort, unhappiness, and anxiety to people who aren’t used to the experience. People may reach a point where they simply don’t want to say even simple things due to having a stutter. Stutters also can increase if someone is stressed or pressured, and people feel stressed when they stutter, which causes a vicious circle.
Family members, loved ones and in-home caregivers also must learn ways to support and accept the person with the stutter, which means having patience while they express themselves slower than they used to. They also can discuss their observations with a health care provider, home health care personnel or look for other resources such as a speech therapist.
All about stutters
About 1 percent of the U.S. population has a stutter or stammer, which works out to be about 3 million people. About 70 million people have stutters world-wide, generally more males than females.
Stutterers can vary by age and type of behavior. Sometimes a stutter can be as simple as getting a word in the wrong place. Or other times it can be completely not being able to form a word or sentence.
A stutter is generally more common in childhood when someone is still developing their language skills. Many youths may only stutter for a few months especially if they’re surrounded by peers who are also learning how to speak.
There three general types of stutters and possible causes for them, no matter the age.
- Neurogenic, which can be triggered by physical changes in the brain, nerves, and muscles.
- Developmental, which can be related to language processing.
- Psychogenic, which can be connected to thinking and reasoning.
Much of the research into stuttering generally focuses on youth, when a stutter is more noticeable and could negatively impact someone’s social experiences and academic performance.
However, there’s less information about stuttering that seniors could experience, other than possible causes.
These can include:
- Dramatic emotional changes. Someone may have had a stutter when they were younger, but they gradually were able to improve their circumstances with speech therapy and self-discipline. But perhaps they’re at a point in their lives where anxiety has grown high and they feel lonely and unwelcome they may return to old emotional habits. Or, even if they didn’t stutter earlier in life, stressful conditions and confusion can sometimes still make it difficult to choose the correct words or trigger a stressful situation that can include starting to stutter.
- Brain condition. A stroke or another condition could have altered certain areas of the brain that control language processing. Even a concussion, a big bump or other trauma could temporarily or permanently affect the brain, which can affect speech patterns. Dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease also may cause changes to how the brain functions.
- Medication. As seniors age, they may have a variety of health conditions and then be prescribed a variety of pharmaceuticals to address them. Combinations of certain prescriptions may even cause side effects in some people, including a stutter or other brain changes.
- Fatigue. High levels of stress and high levels of fatigue both can contribute to higher rates of stuttering. To avoid this, look for ways to get more sleep, whether it’s going to bed earlier, later or taking more naps. Other methods of relaxation such as massage, meditation or low-impact exercise and yoga can offer physical as well as mental and emotional relief.
- Body condition. Medical conditions affecting the jaw, throat, mouth or gums can make it difficult or uncomfortable to form words or speak them clearly. Possible obstructions can include cysts, tumors or canker sores. This type of stutter is different from being able to form the proper words if your brain isn’t working correctly, but both types can be limiting.
Caregivers and family members are in a good position to observe and determine when someone develops a stutter and possible causes for it. They may need to encourage a visit to a provider, who can assess things like cognitive abilities, possible physical or mental changes, and stress and emotional levels. Their diagnosis could lead to speech therapy or other efforts.
This month is a perfect occasion to learn more from Accredited Home Care. Each Oct. 22 has been designated as International Stuttering Awareness Day. Since 1998, this has been a project supported by a variety of stuttering-related organizations, including the International Stuttering Association, the European League of Stuttering Associations and the International Fluency Association.