Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disease affecting 1.5 million Americans and 8 million individuals worldwide. PD results in motor, sensory processing, and/or neuropsychological disorders, which occur in varying degrees with a variety of associated symptoms. Eighty nine percent of individuals with PD will have difficulty with speech and voice that negatively impacts their ability to effectively communicate. Problems with communication can result in social isolation, low self-esteem, depression, and diminished quality of life.
The PD population is quite heterogeneous, and each person’s experience with communication difficulties is unique. However, common complaints include a weak or soft voice that easily becomes tired, monotone pitch, and rough or breathy voice quality. Reported changes result in less precise speech that is difficult to understand, especially to people who have hearing loss. These symptoms are due, in part, to brain changes that alter a person’s internal cueing system, which alerts the body about how loud the voice should be or how much effort is required to produce speech that can be heard and understood.
Can you or someone you know relate to any of this information? If so, ask yourself or the person you know the following questions:
• Do people ask you to repeat?
• Does your voice sound hoarse, scratchy, or breathy?
• Does your family say you speak too softly?
• Does your voice fatigue easily?
• Does your voice sound strong on some days and weak on others?
• Do you cough when you eat or drink?
• Do you experience drooling?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, please call to schedule a voice or swallowing evaluation.
Certain strategies for improving communication work better for some people than for others, or may need to be adjusted at a different stage of Parkinson’s. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for improving communication in PD. Often the key of the individual with PD and the caregiver is to be flexible, creative, and to shift or combine strategies as needed as the disease progresses and communication needs change. All those involved in the process play a role in its success in allowing person with PD to be heard. More often than not, successful therapy programs include both the person with PD and their communication partner(s).