Speech Therapy and Parkinson ’s disease:

Lisa Stutzenbecker, M.S. CCC-SLP

Speech therapy programs focus on assessment and treatment of cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders in the aftermath of a stroke, traumatic brain injury, and diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

Difficulty speaking and/or swallowing can be very limiting symptoms for those with Parkinson’s disease. Fortunately, speech language pathologists can help people with Parkinson’s disease maintain as many communication skills as possible.

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Communication challenges for persons with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Some patients experience changes in cognition and language, including:
    • Difficulty thinking quickly or remembering new information
    • Trouble managing multiple tasks
    • Needing extra time to find words or understand complex sentences
  • Some experience difficulty using words and facial expressions that convey emotions, such as speaking with a ‘flatter’ voice or lack of facial expression or emotion.
  • Typical body language adds emphasis to a speaker’s words, but a person with Parkinson’s disease often has a compromised ability to make gestures.
  • About 90 percent of people with Parkinson’s will experience changes in their voices or their ability to make speech sounds at some stage. Symptoms include:
    • Voice becomes quieter
    • Can also develop a breathy or hoarse quality
    • Difficulty recognizing how loud the voice should be or how much effort is required to produce clear speech
    • Some individuals speak more slowly
    • Others accelerate their speech so much that they stumble over sounds and seem to be stuttering
    • Speech may become softer and less clear when moving around

Treating communication challenges that come with Parkinson’s disease:

  • Exercise the Voice: The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) program is designed to increase vocal volume. The intensive voice exercise program help people speak more loudly and clearly through structured therapy sessions and a home exercise program.
  • Utilize technology
    • Devices can be used to optimize the natural tendency we all have to raise our voices above background noise.
  • Pace yourself: Patients with Parkinson’s Disease should concentrate on slowing down. Try therapies that focus on voice and speech, such as LSVT, where pacing helps to slow down the rate of speaking.
  • Plan and prepare for emergencies: When speech is limited, it is important to find appropriate communication technologies that will help with daily activities. Carry a portable phone that is equipped with pre-programmed numbers you might need, and pre-program all of your telephones so they can automatically dial the necessary emergency number(s). Consider a “life call” button for emergencies if you spend time alone.

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How can I maintain and enhance my speech?

Seek treatment by a certified LSVT-LOUD speech therapist as soon as you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, even if you are not experiencing communication difficulties yet.  Early intervention is important!

Be aware that exercises intended to strengthen weakening muscles may be counter-productive if performed improperly.  Always ask your speech therapist which exercises are right for you and complete them as recommended.

  • Choose an environment with reduced noise
  • Speak slowly
    • Establish the topic before speaking
    • Over-articulate speech by prolonging the vowels and exaggerating the consonants
  • Use short phrases
    • Say one or two words or syllables per breath
  • Be certain your listener can see your face
    • Look at the person while you are talking
    • A well-lit room enhances face-to-face conversation, increasing understanding
  • Choose a comfortable posture and position that provide support during long and stressful conversations

Click here to learn more about LSVT Therapy at Touro.

Stutzenbaker, LisaLisa Stutzenbecker, M.S. CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist at Touro Infirmary. Lisa has provided speech therapy to adults with a variety of neurological diagnoses since 2007.  She particularly enjoys working with individuals who have Parksinson’s Disease and seeing the progress they make through the LSVT program.  After starting her career in Texas, Lisa is glad to be back home in New Orleans and has worked at Touro Infirmary since 2011.

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