Speech Therapy and Parkinson’s Disease- a new intervention for improving communication for those with PD

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Speech Therapy and Parkinson’s Disease- a new intervention for improving communication for those with PD

by Diane M. Wojnowski, MA, CCC-SLP

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I have spent the last 20 years helping individuals communicate more effectively. It is incredibly rewarding and challenging work. It never gets boring because everyone I work with is different- each person presents with different strengths and weaknesses, different goals, and different learning styles. I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, and with individuals of all ages and many diagnoses over the years. I find working with adults who are suffering from degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s Disease, particularly rewarding. The personal connections I am able to make with patients and their families remind me why I am a SLP.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, approximately 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), and an additional 60,000 are diagnosed with the disease each year. There is no known cure, but medications and rehabilitative therapy can help to manage the disease. One of the challenging things about working with patients with PD is that they lose the motivation, energy, focus, and discipline needed to participate in a regular therapy routine. Often, they also lack insight or self-awareness of their deficits. This is not a personal choice, but rather a result of low Dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine also impacts automatic movements. Unfortunately, speech and swallowing are automatic movements. When a patient with PD (or more often, a family member of that patient) seeks out a Speech-Language Pathologist, it is most often because the family is having trouble understanding their loved one due to low volume of speech.

When I meet an individual with PD, I am interested in assessing four areas of function: speech, language, cognition, and swallowing. Speech can become weak, imprecise, or slurred, and the natural rhythm and rate can be impacted. Deficits in language and cognition may be evident in difficulty comprehending complex commands, difficulty initiating activities spontaneously and independently, difficulty problem solving, impaired memory, slower processing of information, and word-finding deficits. Swallowing deficits can lead to choking, aspiration, and malnutrition and/or dehydration. To further complicate matters, PD generally progresses slowly, so deficits may not be obvious until they are causing severe problems.

I recently completed training in a therapy technique created by the Parkinson Voice Project, called SPEAK OUT! Parkinson Voice Project is a nonprofit organization based in Texas. Their mission is:

To preserve the voices of individuals with Parkinson’s and related neurological disorders through intensive speech therapy, follow-up support, research, education, and community awareness.

I am really excited to add this new intervention protocol to my current therapy. Efficient and effective communication cannot be taken for granted. The ability to clearly communicate is what keeps us connected to our family and friends, allows for effective discussions with our doctors and medical providers, and improves the quality of our lives. If you, or someone you love, are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, or a related neurological disorder, please do not wait. If Contact me at 716-688-3010. It is never too early to start intervention. I invite you to check out this website, or even watch an informational video:

https://www.parkinsonvoiceproject.org/

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