Ataxia is a term for a group of disorders that affect co-ordination, balance and speech. It is usually caused by damage to the cerebellum (located at the base of the brain) but can also result from damage to the spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system. An individual with ataxia will often have difficulties with balance, walking (gait), speaking, swallowing, fine-motor tasks like writing and eating, and vision.
The exact symptoms and their severity depend on the type of ataxia an individual has. The many different types can be divided into three main categories: acquired ataxia (symptoms develop as the result of trauma, a brain tumour, stroke, multiple sclerosis, nutritional deficiencies, or other problems that damage the brain or nervous system); heritary ataxia (symptoms develop gradually over several years and are caused by faulty genes that an individual inherits from their parents); and idiopathic late-onset cerebellar ataxia (the brain is progressively damaged over time for unknown reasons).
Individuals with ataxia typically present with speech and swallowing problems.
How we can help
A common symptom of ataxia is slurred speech (dysarthria). Our therapists will be able to assess the severity of an individual's speaking difficulties and devise a treatment plan accordingly. Goals will often include working on posture and breathing techniques to improve voice quality and speech, voice initiation exercises, and oral placement exercises to improve muscle strength and range of movement when speaking. In some situations if symptoms are particularly severe and the speech is getting progressively worse, we can also provide advice on Augmentative and Alternative Communication(AAC) systems (e.g. a communication aid) to help individuals to communicate to the best of their ability.
For individuals with ataxia who present with swallowing difficulties, we have Speech and Language Therapists specially trained in Dysphagia. Following an assessment of the client's particular problems we can work with them and other professionals to come up with a management plan to suit their individual needs. Goals may include: using special equipment to aid eating and drinking; exercises to target development of the lips, tongue and throat muscles; and exercises to improve posture and breathing.
For further information regarding ataxia visit www.ataxia.org.uk