What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease (also often referred to as PD) arises when the brain cells that are responsible for creating dopamine no longer work, or die. Dopamine is the brain chemical that coordinates movement. Parkinson’s disease is often classified as a movement disorder because it can cause tremors, slowness, stiffness in movement, and problems related to balance and walking. This disease can also affect brain activity, cognition, memory, and other parts of the body unrelated to movement. Parkinson’s disease is an incurable and progressive disease, which means that the symptoms worsen as time progresses.
How individuals experience living with Parkinson’s and what it means for their quality of life is unique to each person. Because the symptoms and the rate at which the disease progresses vary widely between individuals, it is impossible to predict how the disease will affect and progress in an individual, and how severe the symptoms will become.
Studies show that as many as 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, and this disease affects more than 6 million people across the globe. Parkinson’s disease can have profound effects on communication skills, which in turn can cause major declines in the individual’s independence and quality of life. Speech therapy for Parkinson’s disease can be highly valuable and can help those affected by this disease to retain as much function as possible, as well as equip them (and their loved ones and caregivers) with the appropriate skills and techniques to manage the symptoms of this disease as they relate to communication. Connect with an experienced speech therapist today by scheduling your free introductory call!
What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease has Four Primary Symptoms:
- Tremors in the Hands, Legs, Jaw, Arms, or Head
- Muscle Stiffness and Muscle Contractions that Persist for a Long time
- Slowness when Moving
- Impaired Balance and Reduced Coordination (which can occasionally lead to falls)
Other symptoms include:
- Depression and other Changes in Emotions
- Difficulties related to Chewing, Swallowing and Speaking
- Elimination or Urinary Problems
- Skin Problems
In most cases, the early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are subtle and develop gradually. For instance, an individual in the early stages of the disease might experience a mild tremor in their hand or may struggle to get up out of a chair. Or they may notice that their speaking voice has become extremely soft, or that their handwriting is looking less neat or legible. Loved ones may also notice the early subtle signs of Parkinson’s disease before the individual does. They may notice an absence of facial expressions or animation when they are speaking. They may also notice a difference in the individual’s gait, or the movements of their hands, arms, and legs.
In many cases, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease begin to emerge on one side of the body or even one limb. As the disease progresses, both sides of the body are eventually affected. It is relatively common, however, for the symptoms to be more pronounced on one side of the body, even when both sides are affected.
It is common for those with Parkinson’s disease to report that before the onset of stiffness and tremors, they experienced such symptoms as constipation, sleep problems and restlessness, and loss of smell. While some of these symptoms can be normal parts of aging, it is important to talk to your doctor if these symptoms are worsening or negatively affecting your everyday life. Speech therapy is also a great support option for someone who is struggling with daily life due to Parkinson’s disease. Getting started with a specialized speech and language pathologist is as simple as scheduling your free introductory call today!
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
The most notable symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are the result of nerve cells in the area of the brain in charge of movement (known as the basal ganglia), becoming damaged or dying. In a healthy brain, these nerve cells (neurons) produce an essential brain chemical called dopamine. When these neurons die or become damaged, they aren’t able to produce an adequate amount of dopamine. Without the appropriate production of this chemical, problems related to movement begin to appear. Scientists are still trying to determine what causes the damage and death of these neurons.
Does Parkinson’s Cause Loss of Speech? How Does Parkinson’s Affect Speech?
Difficulties with speech and voice production are very common among those affected by Parkinson’s disease. Difficulty with effectively producing speech is known as dysarthria and affects as many as 75-90% of Parkinson’s disease across the globe.
Parkinson’s disease affects nerves and muscles that are essential for effectively producing speech. This disease most notably affects the:
- Larynx (Also known as the Voicebox).
- Respiratory Muscles
- The Roof of Mouth
- The Tongue and Lips
- Muscles Responsible for Facial Expression and Movement
- Areas of the Brain that are Responsible for Hearing as well as Voice and Speech Processing
Some of the voice and speech difficulties that are typically seen in Parkinson’s Disease include:
- A Softened Speaking Voice
- A Reduced Volume to the Speaking Voice.
- Speaking in Monotone Voice or an Unchanging Pitch
- A Hoarse or Strained Voice Quality
- Increased Breathiness or Running Out of Breath When Speaking
- Difficulty Pronouncing Certain Letters and Words
- A Shaking or Tremor in the Voice
- Slurred Speech
- Frequent Use of Short Rushes of Speech
- Decreased or Absent Facial Expressions
Many people with Parkinson’s disease are not immediately aware of the problems with their spoken communication. Changes in the quality of their voice may be the first sign of speech problems followed by difficulty producing fluid speech and clear and distinct speech sounds. Speech production problems that are severe enough to reduce the clarity of speech and the ability of others to understand the individual don’t typically occur until later in the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Slurred speech occurs as a result of loss of muscle tone and the decreased ability to effectively coordinate the movements and required muscle strength to produce clear and fluid speech.
How Can Speech Therapy Help with Parkinson’s Disease?
If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with producing clear speech and a strong tone of voice due to Parkinson’s disease, seek the help and support of a specialized speech-language pathologist. At Great Speech, we have a network of highly knowledgeable and experienced speech therapists that have received specialized training to work with those affected by Parkinson’s disease. Our therapists are specifically trained and educated to diagnose speech and language disorders and to help each individual that they work with to reach their communication goals and thrive in their daily lives.
Speech therapy for Parkinson’s disease typically involves exercises and techniques that focus on maintaining as many communication skills as possible and teaching techniques to conserve energy such as the use of nonverbal communication skills and tools. The speech therapist may also introduce assistive devices and techniques that can help to support and improve existing skills. They may also recommend certain exercises to be completed between sessions that focus on strengthening the muscles and movements that are required for speech production. Above all, speech therapy for an individual with Parkinson’s disease will focus on maintaining as much independence and quality of life as possible. Get started with Great Speech by scheduling your free introductory call today!