Written by Elizabeth Campbell, MA, CCC-SLP, a speech pathologist at the UK Voice & Swallow Clinic.
For most of us, communication is something we take for granted. But for people with communication disorders, it can require extra assistance and hard work.
Each year during the month of May, speech-language pathologists and audiologists celebrate Better Hearing and Speech Month by raising awareness about people with communication disorders and promoting ways to improve their quality of life. This includes people with a variety of communication challenges that affect speech, language, voice, hearing, problem solving and other communicative functions.
Parkinson’s and communication challenges
You may already be familiar with one condition that can result in a communication disorder: Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the brain that causes damage to specific nerve cells. This results in tremors, muscle weakness, stiff muscles, balance problems and difficulty walking.
Throughout the course of the illness, Parkinson’s disease can also negatively affect a person’s speech. For these patients, this impact can include a low speaking volume (called hypophonia), hoarseness, monotone voice quality and unclear words. Patients can also have difficulty coordinating their breathing and speaking. These changes can interfere with effective communication.
Imagine if others asked you to repeat yourself in a conversation, could not hear you on the phone or described your voice as monotone. Furthermore, imagine you are unable to monitor your own loudness. You would probably feel very frustrated trying to communicate. These are common problems for patients with Parkinson’s disease, making it difficult for them to improve their speech without assistance.
Fortunately, there are treatments that can help. One option is called Lee Silverman Voice Therapy, or LSVT LOUD. This program uses loud speech tasks to strengthen motor systems used for speech, with the goal of improving a patient’s ability to communicate. It follows a series of exercises that emphasize “thinking loud” by using healthy vocal loudness, not shouting or yelling.
Research shows that it helps patients speak more loudly, with more natural intonation and with a clearer voice. This program helps patients improve their awareness of their speaking volume by stimulating the sensory and motor systems. With louder and clearer speech, patients often become more confident in their communication. This improves quality of life for the patient and the people they communicate with.
LSVT LOUD therapy is specially designed for use with patients with Parkinson’s disease and has been studied by researchers for more than 20 years. Treatment is intensive and involves four sessions per week for four weeks. This is required for the brain to develop a better process for louder speech.
Patients who are interested in addressing their Parkinson’s-related speech changes will need an evaluation with an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) to assess the voice box (larynx), as well as an evaluation with a speech-language pathologist who specializes in voice disorders. If LSVT LOUD therapy is recommended, patients should look for speech-language pathologists with an LSVT LOUD certification, as there is specific training that clinicians must complete before utilizing this program.
- The UK Voice & Swallow Clinic, the largest of its kind in Kentucky, provides testing and treatment for patients with disorders of voice, resonance, breathing and swallowing.
- Are you or a loved one a newly diagnosed Parkinson’s disease patient? UK HealthCare offers advocacy programs, exercise classes, counseling and more at the Kentucky Parkinson’s Disease Information & Referral Center.