Stuttering research has yielded a few interesting results lately, concentrating focus in two areas: studies of the brain itself and tests on speech therapy tools and programs for stuttering. One body of research helps us piece together what one day may be a definitively known cause. The other body of research focuses on therapy that can be learned and implemented immediately to reduce the symptoms of stuttering.
Blood Flow & The Brain: A Piece of the Cause
A study led by researchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles revealed a new finding in the brains of individuals who stutter. In those who stutter, the regional cerebral blood flow is reduced in the Broca’s area (the brain region tied to speech production in the frontal lobe). The study revealed that more severe stuttering is linked with even more drastic reductions in blood flow to Broca’s area…so blood flow and stuttering severity are directly correlated.
This sounds simple, but researchers specializing in stuttering call this discovery groundbreaking, because it has opened doors to a completely new perspective in stuttering research. Now, researchers know to focus research on blood flow and the Broca’s area among other avenues, and more focused research yields more successful results.
Other Considerations from These Findings
Cardiovascular Disease & Stuttering?
Now that we know that blood flow to a certain area of the brain is involved in stuttering, what do these findings mean for people who stutter who happen to have cardiac and vascular complications that impact blood flow in general? This would certainly impact blood flow to the brain, as it does to the rest of the body. Will this impact stuttering too?
Migraine Medications & Stuttering?
How would migraine medication impact a person who stutters? After all, many migraine medications constrict the blood vessels in the brain…and Broca’s area is in the brain. Wouldn’t that lead to increased stuttering? There are many questions unanswered, but now, we have a direction for further research, which is why it’s important now more than ever. For those of us who are interested in more functional, immediate developments, we can look to therapy research for information!
New Research on Therapy Programs
Current research on therapy for stuttering involves testing the Modifying Phonation Intervals (MPI) Stuttering Treatment Program that teaches individuals who stutter to reduce the frequency with which they verbalize short intervals of phonation while speaking. For example, we’ll use the word “sheet” to demonstrate what we mean. The word part “eet” is a voiced (phonated) unit, while “sh” is an unvoiced unit.
The software used with the MPI program offers real-time feedback to the user and visually shows the occurrence of the short phonated intervals, which helps teach a client how to reduce stuttering.
The program is divided into four phases, which are designed specifically for the individual who stutters and his/her clinician to manage together in a way that best suits that client. The clinical trial showed definite improvements in natural fluent speech for most participants…so we may see this program or some version of it used in the therapy world in due time.
Typically, the program takes months to improve a person’s stutter, but that’s not necessarily a negative. After all, speech impediments rarely have a quick overnight fix. Improving them takes patience and dedication, and learning a variety of strategies or tools to manage one’s stuttering can be beneficial. This is no brain scan, but it seems more results-focused and able to be implemented in the short term than what we know about blood flow to Broca’s area of the brain.
The results of the studies above are promising. Research on the medical and the therapy aspect of stuttering could lead to a more comprehensive approach to stuttering and reducing its severity, which will help the more than 3 million Americans in the U.S. alone that must manage their stuttering daily.
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
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