Speech Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

May 26, 2017By: VocoVision

Parkinson’s disease can be one of the more frustrating ailments for the elderly. Not only does it worsen over time, but two symptoms cause key issues when it comes to speaking. Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, and difficulty in speech, or dysarthria are the most common symptoms that those with Parkinson’s deal with. Using speech therapy as a tool can help lessen the effects of dysphagia and dysarthria. 

People suffering from Parkinson’s often find the weakening of their muscles around their voice box, tongue, roof of their mouth, lips, and down into the throat. When this happens, dysarthria sets in and frustrates the patient. They may suddenly sound hoarse or strained, muffled, or nasally, may speak unclearly, or have slurred speech. Speech therapy can help maintain speech for as long as possible while teaching the patient how to conserve their energy and use non-verbal modes of communication. Often speech therapists will evaluate the swallowing function to gauge appropriate therapeutic techniques.  Here are some other ways that therapists will help the patient:

  • Work with the patient in a quiet space
  • Speak slowly and with short phrases
  • Speaking in a well-lit room so that the patient and therapist (or a loved one) can see one another and make plenty of eye contact.
  • Over articulate, exaggerate consonants and prolong the vowels
  • Practice exercises to strengthen muscles, if appropriate
  • Teaching vocal rest before phone calls or planned conversations
  • Learn telegraphic speech

Additionally, there is often a focus on non-verbal speech. Often, we assume that patients will be displeased at not vocally speaking, and it does mean a change in quality of life, but the reality is that non-verbal communication can be a relief for the patient. Techniques include written communication and gestures or sign language. These techniques are often employed when vocal speech is not achievable.

One of the biggest benefits in the therapist’s handbags is assistive devices. Here are the top devices that most therapists use:

  • Amplifier – to increase volume and decrease fatigue
  • Palatial lift – similar to a retainer, lifts the soft palate and stops air escaping out the nose
  • Electronic speech enhancers – computers with voice synthesizers
  • TTY telephone relay – telephone with keyboard attached, speech is typed out and relayed by an operator

It is also important that the major family members of the patient are heavily involved in learning techniques so that they can use the same techniques at home with the patient. It is also important to encourage families to come up with emergency plans that surround how the patient can communicate with emergency personnel should the unthinkable occurs.

While Parkinson’s cannot be cured, we can lessen its effects. Speech therapists are a vital asset to the care of patients’ suffering from the debilitating disease.

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