One of the major effects of traumatic brain injury is the harm it can cause to a person’s language skills.
This often results in aphasia after TBI, and it can manifest in many different forms.
From weakening of the facial muscles used to form words, to damaging higher level cognitive functions that help us communicate, a TBI can severely impact how you verbally connect with others.
Luckily, speech therapists have created lots of ways to regain these abilities through special TBI speech therapy activities.
That’s why today, to help you recover your speech, we’re giving you step-by-step instructions for some of the best speech therapy activities for TBI patients.
Let’s get started!
Speech Therapy Activities for TBI
Before we dig in to specific TBI speech therapy activities, we need to understand how speech works. How do we translate the thoughts in our minds into words that others can understand?
On the physical level, speaking involves air passing through your vocal chords to produce sound, which your mouth then forms into words.
But to perform this seemingly simple actions requires a concerted effort from several different areas of your brain. During a conversation, your brain must:
- Coordinate facial muscles to form words and swallow at the right time
- Listen and pay attention to what the other person is saying
- Process facial expressions and body language
- Recall what the person said and produce the right words in response
Depending on which area of your brain is injured, one or all of these skills could be affected.
That’s why it’s important that you identify which speech skills you are lacking in, so you can focus specifically on speech therapy activities that will strengthen them.
With that, here are some of the best TBI speech therapy activities that will help you learn how to talk again. Most of these will be focused on improving facial muscle coordination.
Facial Strengthening Speech Therapy Activities
When a TBI damages the nerves that control facial muscles, this can cause you to slur your words together.
This condition is known as dysarthria, and it can be challenging to deal with.
The best way to overcome dysarthria is to retrain your muscles through facial strengthening activities.
The following are a few easy facial strengthening exercises that you can do at home.
1. “Pucker Up!”
For this exercise, you just need to pucker your lips like you are going to give someone a kiss. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
Next, pucker your lips again, but this time move your lips from one side to the other while still holding the pucker. Repeat 10 times. Try not to move your tongue.
Finally, close your lips tightly, and say “mm..mm..mm” then “p…p…p” then “b…b..b”
2. Cheek Puff
Take a deep breath through your nose and puff your cheeks out. Hold the air in your cheeks for 5 seconds. Exhale slowly. Repeat 10 times.
Next, take another deep breath, but this time only hold the air in your left cheek, then move the air to only your right cheek. Repeat 10 times.
If you’d like to see some of these exercises in action, check out this video demonstration from a professional speech therapist!
3. Tongue Strengthening
For these activities, you will need a flat wooden stick, like a popsicle stick or tongue depressor, to push your tongue against. You should have someone else assist you to prevent any choking incidents.
Stick your tongue straight out. Press tip of tongue against the flat stick 2 or 3 times. Then press the stick in towards your mouth while pushing your tongue hard against the stick as if you are trying to force it away. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
Next, place the stick on the top of your tongue and press down like a doctor does when examining your throat. Then push your tongue up against the stick while you continue to press the stick down. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
Here is another video demonstration of these activities, with a couple bonus exercises thrown in:
Speech Therapy Activities for Apraxia after TBI
Another language disorder that you might experience after TBI is called Apraxia of Speech.
People with apraxia have a hard time pronouncing and sequencing words. The problem lies in miscommunication between the brain and facial muscles, making it difficult to coordinate movement.
To treat apraxia, speech therapists will usually use articulation drills that can range from very easy to very challenging, depending on how severe the apraxia is. The goal with these exercises is once again to retrain your brain to coordinate muscle movement correctly.
Here are some example of articulation exercises that you can try on your own.
4. Lip Articulation Exercises
- Look into a mirror so you can see how your lips move. Now say “ooo” while forming your lips into an O shape. Then say “eee” while forming your lips into a smile. Finally, combine the two and say “ooo-eee.” Repeat 10 times.
- Next say “puh” and try to make a popping sound with your lips.
- Finally, drink some water through a straw. Drinking through a straw requires coordinated movement between your lips, cheeks and tongue, which makes it a great activity for apraxia patients.
5. Tongue Articulation Exercises
These are similar to the tongue strengthening exercises for dysarthria, except instead of strengthening the tongue muscle we’re focusing on improving movement.
- Say “lalalala” without moving your jaw. Only move the tip of your tongue. Rest and repeat 10 times.
- Place the tip of your tongue right behind your upper front teeth. Hold it there as long as you can. Try to work up to three minutes.
- Say “t-d-n” to practice making consonant sounds with the tip of your tongue.
- Open your mouth and form an O shape with your lips. Put your tongue on the left corner of your lip and trace your tongue all the way around your lips. Once you complete the circle, go the other direction. Don’t move your jaw, you want your tongue doing all the work.
6. Coordination Exercises
Once you have practiced enough articulation exercises, you are ready to put everything together and start practicing coordination. Some coordination exercises you can use are:
- Say “buttercup” 5 times in a row, then say “rocket ship” 5 times. These words work your lips, the tip of your tongue, and back of your tongue.
- Say “puh tuh kuh” three times. Start slow then gradually increase your speed.
When to See a Speech Therapist
The activities listed above are just a few of the activities that are commonly used during speech therapy sessions.
While it is possible to do these exercises at home, for the best possible result, we recommend scheduling an appointment with a licensed speech therapist as soon as possible.
Speech therapist are trained to deal with every type of language disorder you might experience after TBI, and can give you a personalized training program to fit your specific needs.
They can even show you more intensive speech therapy activities, such as Constraint-Induced Aphasia Therapy and singing therapy, which are used to treat more severe forms of aphasia.
How to Get the Most Benefit from TBI Speech Therapy Activities
Whether you decide to work with a speech therapist or do these activities on your own, the best way for you to make the greatest improvements in your speech is through massed practice.
Massed practice allows you to trigger your brain’s neuroplasticity, which will help your brain relearn how to use your speaking muscles again!
This means to get the most benefits from these speech therapy activities, you will need to practice them several times a day.
With enough practice and determination, you’ll start to make permanent improvements, and eventually regain your ability to speak.