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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Week-Long Speech Therapy May Improve Stuttering

Study Shows Brain Changes After Speech Therapy
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 8, 2012 -- A week-long, intense course of speech therapy may help reduce stuttering, a new study shows. What's more, improvements in speech corresponded with actual brain changes documented on MRI scans.

In the study of 28 people who stuttered and 13 who did not, stutterers who participated in speech therapy three times a day for one week improved compared with stutterers who did not get the speech therapy.

As part of the therapy, participants repeat two-syllable words and then read words they are shown. None of these exercises were timed. People who stuttered performed better on stuttering tests and stuttered syllables less frequently after the therapy.

Brain scans taken at the beginning and end of the week-long trial showed improvements in brain regions involved in stuttering. Specifically, strength of signals in an area called the cerebellum, which was increased before therapy among people who stuttered, were reduced to the same level as what was seen in the brains of people who did not have stutters, once the therapy ended.

The findings appear in Neurology.

Who Stutters?

About 20% of all children may stutter as part of their speech and language development, and about 5% will stutter for six months or more. Three-quarters will recover by late childhood, leaving about 1% of the population with a long-term problem, according to the National Stuttering Foundation.

"The findings are thrilling for people who stutter and parents of little children because it shows that you are doing things to help and some changes occur in the brain at same time," says Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation, based in Memphis, Tenn.

But what happens when the therapy stops? "A relapse is likely," she says. "People go through with programs and everyone around them expects them to be cured, and they find themselves feeling all sorts of pressure that could trigger stuttering."

Cognitive behavioral therapy can make a big difference in stuttering and stuttering-related anxiety, she says. "It helps people realize that the world doesn't go unhinged if you stutter, and that people aren't going to be rolling on the floor laughing at you."

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