Benefits of Speech Therapy for Parkinson’s Patients
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder that slowly develops as the brain loses the ability to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine plays a major role in rewarding our brains with feel-good chemicals in response to things like sex, motivation, addiction, and attention. It’s also responsible for starting movement and is involved in a host of other bodily functions like nausea, kidney function, and heart function. When dopamine production goes awry in people with Parkinson’s, disease, patients can experience difficulties with movement in different parts of the body: gait, balance, speech, swallowing and digestion. A well-trained speech language pathologist can help to mitigate many of these issues to allow people with Parkinson’s disease to lead fuller lives.
One strategy speech language pathologists can use is to help Parkinson’s patients use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. An AAC can be as low-tech or high-tech as the patient desires, and can be valuable aids to help train patients to overcome speech fluency problems such as stuttering or off-kilter pacing.
With a progressive disorder such as Parkinson’s, it is crucial to actively fight degeneration. It is much easier to keep bodily functions going rather than bringing them back later after the patient has lost the skill. With early intervention, speech language pathologists can help patients preserve the ability to use speech, swallow, and think about how to speak while those functions are still present and working well. The patient can be brought into the office or can have a home visit from the pathologist to work on creating an exercise program that can be done at home, stay connected to social and therapeutic groups, and find local resources for Parkinson’s patients.
Another area where speech language pathologists can help is in cognition—memory, in other words. Parkinson’s patients may have difficulty with memory, paying attention, staying organized, and solving problems. This can be because of the progression of the disease, or it can be because of side effects of medication. Either way, speech language pathologists can help provide effective strategies to help both patients and caretakers work on cognition.
Around 75-90% of people with Parkinson’s have problems with their speech and/or voice. They may speak too softly to be heard, for one example. With intense therapy such as the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment or the Parkinson Voice Project, the patient’s voice may be able to come back to normal volume.
And just as patients may have a hard time with speaking and volume, those same muscle groups may cause them to have trouble swallowing. When throat muscles lose their tone, the risk of aspirating saliva or food and developing pneumonia increases. Working with patients on swallowing exercises to help treat this dysphagia can help greatly.
When patients and speech language pathologists work together to slow and mitigate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, the patient can lead a fuller, more comfortable life for longer.