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Parkinson’s Disease and SLT

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder in which nerve cells in the brain begin to either break down or die. The exact causes of Parkinson’s disease are not yet known. While both genetic and environmental factors have both been observed to play a role, no specific cause has been identified.

Parkinson’s disease mainly affects our muscles and usually leads to involuntary tremors, most commonly in the hand, and also makes our muscles stiffer and more difficult to move. Other effects of Parkinson’s include developing a hunched back, and losing the ability to carry out subconscious actions such as blinking.

Effects of Parkinson’s on Speech

Humans need to use as many as 100 muscles to speak, so it should come as no surprise that Parkinson’s will impair a person’s ability to do so. In fact, about 90% of people who develop Parkinson’s will experience changes in the way they speak. Most people will speak more quietly and more slowly, and many will slur, stumble, stammer, and forget words. It is important to remember that Parkinson’s not only effects people physically by reducing the control they have over their muscles, but it also affects people mentally. As Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder, it can often affect people’s memory, vocabulary, train of thought and ability to speak while performing another task.

Similarly, it is important to remember that not all communication is done through speech. Parkinson’s also seriously affects a person’s ability to communicate nonverbally, and also their ability to pick up on the social cues of others.

Speech Therapy

As mentioned above, there is a huge amount of muscles required for us to speak, so it would be impossible for any average person to identify where a person is struggling with their speech. In fact, trying to force speech out could be training a person into bad habits and could even be counterproductive. It is important to see a speech therapist in order to accurately identify where the difficulties lie, and what exercises would be best to help minimise speech loss and retrain the patient.

With that in mind, and the fact that Parkinson’s is a condition that varies considerably on a case-by-case basis, it is difficult to provide examples of the exact techniques that would be used in therapy. However, there are a number of exercises and techniques common to most cases. For example, there are daily exercises that involve making different sounds, such as “Ahh”. The patient will attempt to increase the volume of the sound, change key and improve general delivery of the sound. The therapist may also train the patient to focus on over-enunciating different letters, speaking at a different speed, using shorter words and sentences, or proper breathing techniques.

Difficulty speaking is known as dysarthria, and is a common symptom for people with Parkinson’s disease. It is closely linked with dysphagia, which is where a patient has difficulty swallowing. This is also common among people with Parkinson’s, and is a condition that can also benefit from working with a speech therapist.