Speech and language therapists' management practices, perceived effectiveness of current treatments and interest in neuromuscular electrical stimulation for acquired dysarthria rehabilitation: An international perspective

Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2023 Oct 11. doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12963. Online ahead of print.


Background: Research is beginning to shed light on the practices employed by speech-language therapists (SLTs) for the management of acquired dysarthria. However, studies that explore SLTs' satisfaction with the effectiveness of current therapies and their interest in new treatment methods for this population have not been carried out. One potential new method is neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES): the pool of evidence for its use in rehabilitation is increasing, yet it has not been widely explored for use with dysarthria.

Aim: To extend the understanding of acquired dysarthria management practices employed by SLTs across the globe and determine their satisfaction with current therapy options. To explore their interest in using NMES with this population.

Methods and procedures: A cross-sectional international online survey was developed and disseminated to SLTs working with adults with acquired dysarthria through international professional associations. The survey collected information on demographic characteristics, dysarthria management practices, satisfaction with treatment effectiveness and interest in and knowledge of NMES. Survey responses were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics, and quantitative content analysis.

Outcomes and results: A total of 211 SLTs (North America, 48.8%; Europe, 36%; Asia, 8.1%; Oceania, 5.7%; Africa, 0.9%; South America, 0.5%) completed the survey in full. Management practices varied considerably. There was a clear preference for informal assessments, mainly oral-motor examinations, focusing on body functions and structures. The majority of respondents rejected the use of non-speech oral motor exercises as a clinical or carryover exercise. Variable satisfaction with current speech subsystem treatments was noted; however, overall, there was a general dissatisfaction. Whilst a strong interest in the use of NMES for dysarthria was evidenced, it was noted that most SLTs lacked fundamental knowledge of NMES principles and application.

Conclusion: SLTs' management practices and satisfaction with acquired dysarthria treatments differed substantially. Investigations of the potential use of NMES for dysarthria treatment are of interest.

What this paper adds: What is already known on the subject Recent country-specific surveys have explored speech-language therapists' (SLTs') assessment and intervention practices for acquired dysarthria. These studies indicate that although clinical management for this speech disorder mainly involves informal assessment tools and impairment-focused treatment, communication beyond the impairment, such as the activity and participation domains, is also frequently assessed and treated. What this paper adds to existing knowledge The majority of SLTs are dissatisfied with the overall benefits of current acquired dysarthria treatment. Phonatory, respiration and speech rate therapies are perceived to be more effective than prosody, articulation and resonance treatments. Despite a general lack of theoretical knowledge, most SLTs are interested in neuromuscular electrical stimulation treatment for acquired dysarthria. What are the potential or actual clinical implications of this work? New, evidence-based treatments are needed for SLTs to be confident in the effectiveness of their acquired dysarthria treatment.

Keywords: dysarthria; neuromuscular electrical stimulation; speech and language therapy; survey.