Some people stutter throughout their life into old age. However, when stuttering begins suddenly in old age, it may be a sign of one or more health problems. Speech disfluency in older adults is not uncommon, and stuttering is a type of speech disfluency characterized by repetitions, prolongations, and blocks. Here are some of the common reasons why an older person might begin to stutter out of the blue.
1. Changes in Medication
If an adult begins stuttering suddenly, their caregiver should first check if there have been any changes to his/her medication and its dosage. Many older adults have to take several drugs that help them remain healthy and functional. However, sudden changes to their dosage or composition can cause sudden stuttering. In the case of drug-induced stuttering, it is advisable to consult a healthcare provider as soon as possible. Typically, reversing the dose or changing the medication stops the speech disfluency almost immediately.
2. Changes in Neurology
If someone begins stuttering suddenly, it can be a sign that they have suffered a stroke. A cerebral stroke may one or more neuronal pathways connecting the speech and language processing and speech production areas of the brain. Sometimes, concussions and internal hemorrhaging may also cause stuttering. If a person has not changed their medication and has not experienced a physical injury, sudden stuttering may result from brain changes. It calls for immediate medical examination. After a physical examination, the GP can refer the patient to an expert. Doctors typically recommend an MRI or PET Scans if they suspect a stroke, concussion, or internal injury.
3. Onset of Neurodegeneration
Sudden onset of stuttering in older adults can be a sign of progressing neurodegenerative diseases. As we grow old, our chances of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and age-dependent dementia increase. Advanced dementia can make it challenging for a person to find the correct words and speak smoothly. The person may repeat words entirely or partially, which is a case of neurogenic stuttering. In rapidly progressing neurodegenerative diseases, stuttering may develop into aphasia. Aphasia is the loss of speech comprehension, spoken language, and reading and writing.
4. Signs of Emotional Distress
Emotional trauma can contribute to severe anxiety and distress in anyone. A person may begin to stutter due to mental health issues they are facing in their advanced age. Sudden changes in their finances, health, and family relations can act as triggers. Hence, doctors may prescribe medication that can also help with stuttering. Psychological counseling is another method that has been shown to help people who stutter.
5. Signs of Physical Injury
Sadly, physical injuries in older people are common, especially if they live alone. Keeping one’s balance at all times can be challenging, especially if one has bad knees or a hurt hip. Several times, when older adults fall at home, they fail to report serious injuries, which may include a dislocated jaw, displaced teeth, and swollen gums. Injuries to the mouth may hinder the formation of smooth speech. Obstructions like the growth of a cyst or tumor may also cause similar issues. If a caregiver notices sudden speech problems, checking for signs of injuries and speaking to a doctor immediately helps.
Meet Singhal is a Person who Stutters and the founder of Stamurai – a speech therapy app containing stuttering modification and fluency shaping strategies, tools like DAF (Delayed Auditory Feedback), meditations, scientific assessments, and community support to help people who stutter (PWS) overcome stuttering. An engineer by training, he has been practicing self-therapy for the past seven years and is passionate about helping PWS lead normal lives.