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Movement and Physical Changes

Speech and Communication

People with Huntington’s disease have difficulty with communication because the disease affects muscle control and thinking clearly. The medical term for speech problems is Hyperkinetic Dysarthria. This affects the muscles used in speaking.  

When these muscles aren’t working properly, the following symptoms can occur: 

  • Voices can sound nasally or harsh 
  • Speech can vary between loud and soft 
  • Voice sounds breathy 
  • Voice sounds flat and unemotional  
  • Harder to understand 
  • Speaking rapidly 

HD will also impair a person’s ability to understand information at a normal rate. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t understand what is being said. It just takes longer. It also takes extra time for a response to be spoken. 

What can you do? 

Speaker & Care Partner 

Visit a Speech Therapist or Speech-Language Pathologist to learn strategies for improving voice control. Care partners can learn how they can adjust to make communication easier. Seeing a speech therapist in the early stages is recommended because their tips will become habits that help as the disease progresses. 

Speaker 

  • Speak slowly, emphasizing one word at a time 
  • Use short phrases 
  • Breathe between phrases 
  • If you can’t think of a word, think of a way to describe it 
  • Use gestures 
  • Repeat the word or phrase if the listener doesn’t understand. Give a hint like the first letter of the word. 
  • Write things on a tablet (electronic or paper) 
  • Use a communication board with words and pictures 

Listener 

  • Find a quiet, calm area for the conversation 
  • Be patient. Understanding what you said and thinking of a response takes longer. 
  • Let the speaker know if you don’t understand what they said 
  • Look for gestures to help you understand the meaning
  • If you’re unsure of what was said, ask: “Did you say…?” 
  • Provide choices instead of asking open questions. Example: “Do you want chocolate or vanilla” instead of “What flavor do you want?” 

 

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