Approximately 10 million people globally suffer from Parkinson’s disease.
If you or someone you love is part of this group, you may want to start working with a speech language pathologist.
The sooner you hire a professional, the more improvement you’ll see in your communication abilities. Early intervention is essential for managing all kinds of conditions. Parkinson’s disease is no exception.
Read on to learn more about how Parkinson’s affects speech and what a speech therapist can do to help.
How Does Parkinson’s Disease Affect Speech?
Parkinson’s disease affects speech in several ways.
People who suffer from this neurodegenerative disorder often experience two common conditions. One is dysarthria, or difficulty speaking. The other is dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.
These conditions result from lowered dopamine levels and a weakening of the larynx, tongue, throat, roof of the mouth, and lips.
Some specific impairments that characterize dysphagia and dysarthria include:
- Strained or hoarse voice
- Slurred or unclear speech
- Nasal-sounding or muffled voice
- Choking while eating
- Coughing or gagging while swallowing
- A feeling of food being stuck in the throat
- Recurrent reflux and heartburn
These symptoms are, at best, frustrating and, at worst, dangerous. This is especially true for people with Parkinson’s who live alone or are on their own for large portions of the day.
This is where a speech language pathologist’s services come in. They can teach Parkinson’s patients techniques to manage their symptoms and maintain some of their independence.
How Can a Speech Language Pathologist Help?
When working with people with Parkinson’s disease, the job of a speech language pathologist is twofold. First, they help patients maintain their communication skills as much as possible. They also teach strategies to overcome symptoms and weaknesses.
Some specific areas pathologists focus on include:
Speech and Voice
A speech language pathologist will often implement programs to help Parkinson’s patients maintain and improve their communication skills.
A common problem that many pathologists address is changes in voice levels. Many people with Parkinson’s have a softer or more hoarse voice and don’t even realize it.
To make sure their patients are heard, pathologists work to strengthen the muscles and help patients safely restore their voice levels.
Pathologists also aim to make improvements in the following areas:
- Speech articulation
The end goal is always to help patients maintain or improve their quality of life.
The same muscles that are used for speech are also used for swallowing. When these muscles weaken, swallowing becomes difficult and the chances of choking or developing conditions like aspiration pneumonia increase.
A pathologist will assess people with Parkinson’s disease and diagnose any existing swallowing disorders. They’ll also suggest exercise and other forms of treatment to treat the symptoms of the disorder.
Some potential treatments include:
- Exercises to improve muscle movement
- Teaching new positions to make swallowing easier
- Changing the texture of foods and drinks to make them easier to swallow
A pathologist will also most likely teach a family member or caregiver how to help with the positions and exercises prescribed to treat swallowing problems.
Communication Devices and Strategies
are many devices available that can help people with Parkinson’s disease communicate effectively.
Some popular devices include:
- Palatal lift:This lifts the soft palate to stop air from escaping out of the nose while speaking
- Personal amplifier:This increases voice volume to prevent voice fatigue while speaking
- TTY system:This system comes with a keyboard to type out speech and have it read out loud to the listener
- SPEAK OUT!: Addresses the motor speech deficits associated with Parkinsonism. We have therapists that have completed SPEAK OUT! Training, and it works great with Teletherapy.
In addition to these high-tech devices, pathologists may also recommend “low-tech” devices and strategies to help with communication.
Some possibilities include:
- Language boards
- Training in gesturing or pacing to overcome stuttering
These options are beneficial for people who are in the early stages of treatment. They’re also good for those who can’t afford or don’t have access to high tech options.
Tips for Parkinson’s Patients
Working with a pathologist is very helpful when it comes to learning strategies to improve communication.
These tips can also help Parkinson’s patients improve their speaking abilities between appointments.
Change Your Environment
If you’re meeting up with friends or family, try to choose locations that won’t be very crowded. It’s also good to look for places that don’t have a lot of background noise from televisions or stereo systems. It’ll get very tiring trying to talk over the noise.
If you can’t find a totally silent location, at least try to sit outside or away from the speakers.
Make sure you’re sitting in a comfortable position, too. This will make it easier for you to converse for longer periods of time.
Speak Slowly and Use Short Phrases
This might be frustrating at first. But, it makes it easier for you to stay in control and be understood as you talk.
Make Sure You’re Seen
Make sure whoever you’re with knows that they need to look directly at your face while you talk. This will make it easier for them to understand you.
Carry a Pen and Paper
If you do end up feeling fatigued or are having difficulty communicating verbally, use a pen and paper to write down what you want to say.
It’s not the most efficient method of communication, of course. But, it’s better than getting frustrated or overwhelmed because you’re not able to say what you want to say.
You don’t need to use the pen and paper the whole time, either. Sometimes, people just need to take a short break from speaking and write for a few minutes before they jump back in.
Work with a Speech Language Pathologist Today
Do you think you could benefit from working with a speech language pathologist? Are you worried about making it to appointments or finding someone who can work with your schedule?
If so, you might want to consider working with a pathologist who offers online speech therapy services. It’s easy to fit online appointments into your busy routine since you can attend from the comfort of your own home.