Elderly couple with Parkinson's Disease

Does Speech Therapy Work for Parkinson’s Disease?

As many as 1 million people are living with Parkinson’s Disease in the US. In many cases, changes in voice quality are the first signs of speech problems in someone affected with Parkinson’s Disease. Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and dysarthria (difficulty speaking) are two of the symptoms of this disease that can be severely limiting for those affected. Both of these can be helped by the support of an experienced speech-language pathologist. Speech therapy is one of the most valuable resources for someone struggling with communication challenges related to Parkinson’s Disease. If you or someone you love is experiencing speech problems as symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, help is nearby. Get support now by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive or degenerative brain disorder that affects movement abilities. In most cases, symptoms begin gradually, often starting with a very subtle or minor tremor in one hand. While tremors are a common symptom of Parkinson’s Disease, stiffness or slowing of movements are also often observed. 

In the beginning stages of the disease, facial expressions may be very minimal or absent completely. Someone with Parkinson’s may also no longer swing their arms when they walk. For many with this disease, their speech becomes slurred or soft. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease, which means the symptoms worsen as the disease progresses over time. 

While Parkinson’s Disease has no cure, the right medications and therapies can significantly improve the symptoms of the condition. 

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

The cause of Parkinson’s Disease is a loss of nerve cells in the area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. The nerve cells in this area of the brain are responsible for the production of a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine works as a messenger between the areas of the nervous system and brain that help with coordination and the control of body movements. In the case that these nerve cells become damaged or die, the dopamine levels in the brain are reduced. This results in the part of the brain that controls movement failing to work as well as it normally does, contributing to slower and abnormal movements. 

The degeneration of nerve cells can be a long process. In fact, the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease often only start to appear when approximately 80% of the nerve cells in the substantia nigra have been lost. It is currently unknown what causes the loss of nerve cells associated with Parkinson’s Disease, however, research is ongoing to work towards identifying a potential cause. At this point, the cause is believed to be a combination of genetic changes and environmental factors.

Can you Lose your Speech with Parkinson’s?

As dopamine levels decrease over time, the communication between brain cells becomes increasingly difficult. This results in various movement and cognitive deficits. Speech, language, cognition, and swallowing are all significantly affected by the lowered dopamine levels in the brain. 

Parkinson’s Disease affects speech in many ways. Many people with this disease speak quietly and with one tone, meaning they don’t convey much emotion when they speak. In some cases, speech sounds hoarse or breathy. Some people with Parkinson’s may slur their words, mumble or trail off. Most people with this disease speak slowly, but some may speak very quickly sometimes with a stutter or stammer.

The symptoms that affect motor function, such as decreased facial expression, general slowness, and stooped posture, can also contribute to speech problems. These symptoms often result in incorrect non-verbal cues being sent, impacting the ability to show emotion. Some of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as memory or problems with thinking (cognition) also can affect speech abilities. Cognitive problems may lead to difficulty finding the right words (word retrieval) and a slower pace of speech.

Speech problems can make communicating with family, friends, and health care providers difficult. Difficulties with speech can also interfere with a job and limit social interactions.

Thanks to research and advances in medical science, there are many strategies and therapeutic activities that have been proven to be highly successful in the recovery process. Learn more about how time with a speech therapist can benefit someone affected with Parkinson’s Disease by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What are the Signs of Parkinson’s Disease?

The areas of speech, language, cognition, and swallowing are the most significantly affected by Parkinson’s Disease. The most common signs of this disease include:

  • Speaking with a Quiet Voice or Soft Speech 
  • Speaking with a Monotone Voice
  • Reduction in Facial Movements
  • Deficits Related to Memory 
  • Swallowing Difficulties
  • Drooling or Excessive Salivation

How Does Speech Therapy Help with Parkinson’s Disease? 

Speech therapy has proven to be highly successful in treating Dysarthria (difficulty speaking) and Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). A Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) can help improve swallowing, voice, and communication skills that are commonly affected by Parkinson’s Disease. An experienced speech therapist can teach strategies to overcome communication deficits and challenges including soft or overly quiet speech, Dysarthria (slurred speech), Aphasia (a language disorder), and/or changes in memory, organization, problem-solving, or cognition. 

There are many therapists who specialize in dealing with the progression of Parkinson’s Disease and related symptoms. These therapists will use a host of exercises, drills, and strategies to increase voice volume, promote word retrieval, improve memory and improve conversational skills. Studies have also found role-playing to be a highly effective strategy when re-teaching social and conversational skills which require both word retrieval and conversation.

A speech and language pathologist is one of the best resources for someone living with Parkinson’s Disease. With improved speech, language, and cognition abilities comes increased confidence, independence, and quality of life. Get support for yourself or someone you love now by scheduling your free introductory call today!