Teachers are 3.5 times more likely to develop speech and language disorders (SLDs) compared to Alzheimer’s, according to a recent Mayo Clinic study.
SLDs are defined as a person’s inability to effectively communicate an idea. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), when a person is unable to produce speech sounds correctly or fluently or has a problem with his or her voice, that individual is likely suffering from a speech disorder. People who experience trouble sharing their thoughts, ideas, or feelings completely are likely to be diagnosed with a language disorder. SLDs are not to be confused with Alzheimer’s dementia — a disease that is characterized by a loss of memory.
Researchers of the study observed that a high percentage of their SLD patients were teachers. In an effort to understand the prevalence of the disorder in this specific occupation, the researchers compared 100 SLD patients to a control group of more than 400 Alzheimer’s patients from a Mayo Clinic study on aging. In comparison to other occupations, teachers were still found to be 3.5 times more likely to develop SLDs than Alzheimer’s disease.
The results of the study still leave unclear the reason behind the disorder's prevalence in this occupational group.
“They can’t find words to use in sentences, so they might speak around a word,” theorized Dr. Keith Josephs, the neurologist who led the study. “For example, they might want to come up with the word ‘flashlight,’ and they say ‘the thing that you push the button and the light comes out the front,’ as opposed to coming up with the word."
Teachers themselves speculate the prevalence of SLD could possibly be linked to the level of multi-tasking that happens in a classroom on a day-to-day basis. Nannette Stroebel, a music and choir teacher at Harding, Minn., told CBS Minnesota. “We are consistently doing three or four things at one time. And I think that takes a toll on your brain, I really do," Stroebel said.
While the cause of SLDs remains unknown, previous research has delved into the possible risk factors for the disorders. In an Australian study led by authors Linda J. Harrison and Sharynee McLeod, a national representative sample of approximately 5,000 children was used to decipher several risk factors and protective factors for early speech and language impairment.
According to ASHA, six to eight million people in the United States have some form of language impairment.