The Importance of Speech-Language Therapy for Patients with Huntington’s Disease
Patients with the neurodegenerative disorder Huntington’s disease know what’s going to happen to them as the disease progresses. For many patients and their families, that’s a scary thought. While the rate at which the disease progresses is different for every patient, one thing is certain; nearly every component of speech can be affected. Even though drug therapy treatment is available, it’s often not enough. Early intervention is important to provide strategies for dealing with Huntington’s disease-related speech and swallowing problems.
Setting goals for Huntington’s disease (HD) patients may prove to be more difficult in that you aren’t necessarily going to give them new skills, but rather create tactics to counteract the impairment of coordination and movement, including speech and swallowing. These strategies may help the patient maintain their quality of life. The best chance of speech-language therapy being a success is when you’re able to begin treatment in the early stages of HD. This allows time for you and the patient to create a bond and create a plan for each stage of disease progression.
Unfortunately, there will be no one single course of treatment that will be effective throughout the progression of the disease. The type of interventions you utilize will vary at different points in the disease and range from therapeutic, assistive, and supportive.
At the early stages of HD, you may choose a course of treatment that incorporates breathing exercises, a meal routine, and diet changes to offset the frequency of choking. You may choose to add in voice therapy techniques and teach techniques to self-monitor.
Assisting the Caregiver
You are not only teaching the patient how to adjust to the changes of HD but the family or caregiver needs to be instructed. They too will need to understand that the strategies you’re teaching aren’t necessarily to correct issues but to give them and the patient tools to communicate and maintain their quality of life for as long as possible. As the ability to learn deteriorates, the family or caregiver will need strategies in place for communicating and meeting the patient’s needs.
At this point, your role will be to aid the caregiver with communication strategies and activities that will allow the patient to maintain relationships.
- Allow the patient and caregiver plenty of time for communication.
- Remove noise and distractions.
- Identify good and bad strategies for communication.
- How will they resolve miscommunication or misunderstandings?
Huntington’s disease is a complex disease that affects not only the patient but spouses, children, friends and the professionals who oversee patient care. Though there is no cure for HD, your role as a speech language pathologist is necessary to help slow the progression and give patients as normal of a lifestyle as possible.