Leesburg Senior Home Care Blog

Making Communication Easier with ALS

By Kaltoon Essa

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, causes gradual weakening of muscles due to disruption of electrical impulses because of the death of nerve cells in the brain and spine. Speaking requires the use of muscles in the throat, voice box, soft palette, tongue, and lips. When those muscles become affected by the disease, your aging relative will struggle to communicate and may completely lose the ability to speak. Being unable to speak can cause the older adult to feel frustrated and cut off from friends and families, possibly leading to depression. However, there are ways to support the senior’s ability to communicate, some of which can allow them to “speak” even when they can no longer use their voice. Below are some ways to make it easier for a loved one with ALS to speak.

Work with a Speech-Language Pathologist

Schedule an appointment with a speech-language pathologist as early on in the progression of the disease as possible. The pathologist can help the older adult to maintain the ability to speak for longer than they might otherwise be able to. They can teach the senior how to conserve their energy to make speaking easier. They can also offer strategies and techniques to enhance non-verbal communication. Pathologists can also offer advice about technologies that assist with communication.

Speak in the Right Environment

Speaking over a noisy crowd, the sound of the television, or children playing can be difficult for someone with ALS because it requires more energy. When the older adult is visiting with someone, make the environment as quiet as possible. Turn of the TV or radio and ask children to play in another room. Also, if the senior is going out for coffee or lunch with friends, choosing quiet cafes can make communication easier than going to a noisier restaurant that plays loud music.

Consider Augmented or Alternative Speech Methods

There are several technologies that can allow seniors with ALS to speak even after they lose the use of their voice. There are advanced devices that allow communication through eye movement aimed at a specialized screen, such as the device that was used by Dr. Stephen Hawking. There are also simpler methods, like letter and symbol boards the senior can point to. Again, a speech-language pathologist can help the older adult to find the method that is best for them.

Elder care providers can assist older adults with ALS with communication as well. An elder care provider who is experienced in helping people with speech problems will likely have their own tips and tricks to make communicating easier. Elder care providers are also caring, compassionate people who are patient and will give the ALS patient the time they need to get their meaning across.


If you are considering elder care in Leesburg, VA, for an elderly loved one, please contact the caring staff at Home Helpers Home Care in Leesburg. (703) 297-4642.