Apraxia in Adults: Practical Solutions for Speech Therapy

By Rajini D

Last Updated: May 3, 2024

Have you ever struggled to say what you’re thinking? Imagine facing that challenge with every word you speak. This is the reality for many adults with apraxia of speech, a motor speech disorder that can make simple conversations a daily battle. Apraxia in adults isn’t just about difficulty with the mechanics of speaking; it’s about the frustration and isolation that can come when you can’t communicate effectively.

Apraxia of speech occurs when the brain struggles to send the right signals to the mouth to produce speech. It’s not due to muscle weakness or paralysis—the brain knows what it wants to say, but the message gets lost on the way to the lips, tongue, and jaw. Whether it’s a loved one trying to say “I love you,” or a colleague striving to share an idea, apraxia can put a barrier between thoughts and their expression.

Understanding Apraxia of Speech in Adults

When someone has apraxia of speech, it’s not that they don’t know what to say or that their muscles aren’t strong enough to speak. It’s more about a disconnect between their brain’s intent and their body’s ability to execute. Apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder, meaning the difficulty lies in the complex process of planning and coordinating the movements needed for speech.

Also Read: Understanding Apraxia of Speech – Types, Symptoms and Support

Types of Apraxia

Apraxia comes in various forms, each affecting speech differently:

  • Acquired Apraxia of Speech: Often seen in adults, this type occurs after the brain has been injured, commonly from a stroke or head injury. It affects people who were able to speak well before the injury.
  • Verbal Apraxia: Specifically impacts the ability to coordinate the mouth and speech muscles to produce sounds. Verbal apraxia can make it tough to say even simple words correctly.
  • Limb Apraxia: While not directly related to speech, limb apraxia illustrates the broader impacts of apraxia. It involves difficulty in performing coordinated motor tasks with the arms or legs, which can accompany speech difficulties.

Symptoms of Apraxia

Recognizing apraxia involves observing several indicative symptoms:

  • Inconsistent Speech Sounds: This is a hallmark of apraxia, where the individual’s pronunciation of words may vary significantly each time they attempt to speak.
  • Difficulty Forming Words: People with apraxia often know exactly what they want to say but struggle to organize their lips, tongue, and jaw to form the words. This can lead to errors that are frustrating for both the speaker and the listener.
  • Groping Movements: In an effort to make the correct sound, individuals might visibly struggle, trying to position their mouths correctly.

Know more: Childhood Apraxia of Speech: Symptoms, Origins & Treatments

Causes of Adult Apraxia

Understanding what leads to apraxia of speech in adults is crucial for both diagnosis and treatment. Primarily, apraxia is caused by damage to the parts of the brain responsible for speaking. This can happen suddenly or develop gradually, depending on the underlying cause.

Brain Damage Leading to Apraxia

The most common culprits include:

  • Stroke: A stroke can interrupt blood flow in the brain, damaging areas crucial for speech planning and execution. Many cases of apraxia arise after a stroke, particularly if the left hemisphere of the brain is affected, which is responsible for language in most people.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Injuries from accidents or falls can lead to brain damage that affects speech. The severity of apraxia depends on the location and extent of the injury.
  • Dementia: Certain types of dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal dementia, can progressively impair cognitive functions, including speech.
  • Brain Tumors: Tumors in regions of the brain associated with language can interfere with the ability to plan and produce speech.

Diagnosing Apraxia in Adults

When it comes to diagnosing apraxia in adults, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are at the forefront. These professionals are not only experts in speech disorders but also in the ways that communication issues can affect everyday life. Their role is critical in identifying apraxia and distinguishing it from other similar communication disorders.

Role of Speech-Language Pathologists

SLPs use a combination of observation and standardized testing to diagnose speech disorders. Their initial assessment often starts with a conversation, allowing them to hear the different speech patterns and difficulties an individual may have. By understanding the patient’s history and symptoms, SLPs can tailor their diagnostic approach to suit each unique case. This is crucial because apraxia can vary widely in how it presents and affects individuals.

Testing Process

The diagnostic process typically involves several steps:

  1. Assessment of Speech Sounds: SLPs listen carefully to how individuals articulate sounds and words. They note any inconsistencies in speech, such as distortions or mispronunciations, which are common in apraxia. This might include tasks where the patient is asked to repeat certain words or phrases.
  2. Oral Motor Skills Evaluation: This involves examining the control of the mouth and facial muscles. SLPs look at how well the patient can perform movements like smiling, puckering lips, or moving the tongue. Difficulty with these movements can indicate issues with the motor planning involved in speech.
  3. Formal Speech Tasks: These tasks require the patient to perform complex speech activities that can help highlight problems with planning and sequencing the movements necessary for speech. For example, patients might be asked to say a complicated sentence or carry out rapid alternations between different sounds.
  4. Cognitive and Language Skills Testing: Because apraxia can often co-occur with other cognitive or language disorders, SLPs may also assess other aspects of communication, such as language comprehension and memory related to language use.

Effective Treatment Strategies for Apraxia in Adults

Finding the right treatment for apraxia of speech involves personalized strategies tailored to each individual’s specific needs and the severity of their condition. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) play a crucial role in designing and implementing these strategies to help adults regain as much speech functionality as possible.

Tailored Treatment Approaches

Each person’s journey with apraxia is unique, and thus, treatment plans must be customized. These plans are developed based on a comprehensive evaluation that includes the individual’s specific difficulties, the severity of the disorder, and their overall communication needs. The goal is to improve not just the ability to speak but also the overall quality of life.

Specific Techniques Used in Therapy

  1. Motor Speech Therapy: This technique focuses on improving the planning, sequencing, and coordination of muscle movements required to produce speech. Exercises might include repeating sounds, words, and phrases to build motor skills and improve the clarity of speech.
  2. Sensory Cueing: SLPs use various cues to help guide the patient’s speech production. This can include visual cues, such as watching the therapist’s mouth; auditory cues, such as listening to sounds before repeating them; and tactile cues, such as touching the throat or face to feel the vibrations and movements of normal speech.
  3. Rate Control: By slowing down the speech rate, patients can gain better control over their speech muscles and reduce errors in speech production. Techniques such as using a metronome to pace speech can be particularly effective.

Explore more on our article Overcome Speech Apraxia in Kids: Effective Strategies

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

In severe cases of apraxia, where speech is highly unintelligible or non-functional, AAC devices can be a significant aid. These devices range from simple picture boards to sophisticated electronic devices that generate speech. AAC tools allow individuals to express their needs, thoughts, and emotions, providing a crucial means of communication when verbal speech is limited.

  • Low-tech AAC: Might include picture books or boards with common phrases and daily needs, which can be pointed to for communication.
  • High-tech AAC: Involves electronic devices that can be programmed to speak typed or selected messages.

Also read: Understanding Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) for Your Child

Speech Therapy Goals and Techniques for Apraxia

Improve Motor PlanningMotor Speech TherapyUses exercises to help coordinate and time the movements needed for speech. These help with planning how to move mouth and face muscles properly.
Enhance Speech ClaritySensory CueingUses helpful signals like watching mouth movements, listening to sounds, or feeling throat vibrations to make speech clearer.
Increase Speech RateRate ControlUses methods like a metronome to slow down speech, making it easier to speak clearly and not rush words.
Facilitate CommunicationAAC DevicesUses tools like speech-generating devices or apps to help people who find it very hard to speak. These devices let them express themselves and join in conversations.

Practical Tips for Caregivers and Patients

Managing apraxia of speech at home can be a journey filled with challenges, but with the right strategies and tools, it can also lead to rewarding moments of progress and connection. Whether you’re a caregiver or a patient dealing with apraxia, there are practical steps you can take every day to improve communication and ease the frustration that often comes with this condition.

Daily Exercises for Speech Improvement

  1. Slow and Exaggerated Speech: Encourage the person with apraxia to speak slowly and deliberately, exaggerating mouth movements. This can help improve muscle coordination and clarity of speech.
  2. Use of Mirrors: Practicing speech exercises in front of a mirror can provide visual feedback, helping individuals see how they are forming words and adjust their mouth movements accordingly.
  3. Repetition Drills: Regularly practice repeating words, phrases, and sentences. This repetition helps reinforce motor pathways, making speech production more automatic over time.
  4. Sing Songs: Music can be a powerful tool in speech therapy. Singing uses different neural pathways in the brain and can sometimes be easier than speaking for those with apraxia.

Enhancing Communication at Home

  1. Establish Routines: Use consistent phrases for routine activities or needs. This repetition can make communication easier and more predictable.
  2. Use Gestures and Visual Aids: Incorporate gestures or pictures to help convey meaning. This can reduce pressure and frustration when verbal communication is difficult.
  3. Be Patient and Positive: Encourage conversation without pressure. Celebrate successes, no matter how small, and maintain a positive, supportive environment.
  4. Modify Your Own Speech: Speak clearly and slightly slower, using simpler sentences and pausing between phrases to give the listener time to process and respond.


Understanding and treating apraxia in adults is crucial because it affects their ability to communicate and connect with others every day. It’s not just about making speech better; it’s about improving someone’s overall quality of life. While apraxia presents challenges, remember that help is available. With the right support from speech-language professionals and a supportive community, anyone can make significant improvements.

If you or someone you care for is struggling with apraxia, don’t hesitate to seek help. Early intervention can lead to better outcomes, and every step forward is progress. For more support and resources on managing apraxia, visit Wellness Hub. We’re here to provide the guidance and assistance you need on your journey to clearer communication and a better life.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What is apraxia of speech in adults?

Apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder where individuals have difficulty planning and coordinating the movements needed to form sounds and words correctly. Despite knowing what they want to say, people with apraxia struggle to physically say the words.

2. How is apraxia different from other speech disorders?

Unlike aphasia, which affects language comprehension and production, or dysarthria, which is due to muscle weakness, apraxia of speech is specifically related to the difficulty in planning and executing the motor movements necessary for speech without any muscle weakness.

3. What causes apraxia in adults?

Apraxia in adults is typically caused by brain damage from a stroke, head injury, or progressive neurological conditions. It can occur suddenly or develop gradually depending on the underlying cause of the brain damage.

4. Can apraxia of speech be treated?

Yes, apraxia of speech can be treated through various speech therapy techniques tailored to the individual’s needs. Treatments may include motor speech therapy, sensory cueing, rate control, and the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices in severe cases.

5. What role do speech-language pathologists play in treating adult apraxia?

Speech-language pathologists assess and diagnose apraxia using a range of tests and develop personalized treatment plans. They use specific exercises and techniques to improve the patient’s ability to plan and produce speech.

6. Are there effective home exercises for people with apraxia of speech?

Yes, there are several effective home exercises for people with apraxia, including practicing speech exercises in front of a mirror, repetition drills, and using music and rhythm to improve speech fluency.

7. What support is available for caregivers of adults with apraxia?

Caregivers can access various resources and support systems, including community support groups, professional guidance from speech-language pathologists, and educational materials focused on managing apraxia at home.

8. How can I find help for apraxia of speech?

You can find help by consulting a speech-language pathologist or visiting a specialized clinic that deals with speech disorders. Online resources and local support groups for speech disorders can also provide guidance and assistance.

9. What impact does apraxia have on daily life?

Apraxia of speech can significantly impact daily life, making it challenging to communicate basic needs, socialize, and maintain relationships. The frustration of not being able to speak clearly can also lead to social isolation and emotional distress. However, with appropriate therapy and support, individuals can improve their communication skills and quality of life.

10. Can technology help adults with apraxia improve their communication?

Yes, technology can play a crucial role in helping adults with apraxia improve their communication. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, such as speech-generating devices, apps, and software that facilitate communication, can be extremely beneficial. These tools provide alternative ways for individuals to express themselves when traditional speech is too challenging.

About the Author:

Rajini Darugupally

M.Sc., Speech-Language Pathologist (9+ years of experience)

Rajini is a passionate and dedicated Speech-Language Pathologist with over 9+ years of experience, specializing in both developmental speech and language disorders in children and rehabilitation in adults. Driven by a desire to empower each individual to find their voice, Rajini brings a wealth of experience and a warm, genuine approach to therapy.

Currently, at Wellness Hub, she thrives in a team environment that values innovation, compassion, and achieving results for their clients.

Connect with Rajini to learn more about how she can help you or your loved one find their voice.

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