Parkinson’s Patients Find Their Voice


As we recognize May as Speech Therapy Month, approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year and up to 90% are likely to develop speech disorders. Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system that affects a specific area of your brain. You may recognize the tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease, but most people affected have many other symptoms, including changes in gait and posture, and changes in muscles in the face, mouth and throat.

Most people take everyday activities like talking on the phone, chewing or swallowing for granted, but when you have Parkinson’s disease, those simple things can be a huge challenge. Your voice may become scratchy, your family may tell you that you speak too softly, or you are forced to repeat yourself to be heard. That is where speech therapy and the Speak Out program can help.

Speech Therapy for Parkinson’s Patients

Kendra Armstrong, MS, CCC-SLP, a speech pathologist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare works with patients who have Parkinson’s disease in the Speak Out and Loud Crowd program at St. Elizabeth.

She explains, “The program is designed to preserve the voice of those with Parkinson’s. We use different methods to teach people how to speak with intent. We work on voice projection which gives them the confidence to project their voice and speak with intent.”

When you speak with intent, you use a system in the brain that is less affected by Parkinson’s. The speech pathologist will work one-on-one with each patient to go through a series of exercises. Each session includes:

  • Warm up exercise
  • Glide exercises
  • Counting exercises
  • Reading exercising
  • Cognitive exercises

“After warm-up, we have the patient hold a monotone “ahh” for about five seconds, gliding their voices to higher and lower registers to drill the use of inflection,” says Kendra. “They count and read aloud, connecting words and sounds the way they might stitch together. This allows the muscles in the throat to get some exercise. The repetition of the exercises works the throat and the brain together.”

Therapy is done three times a week with home exercises that should be done twice a day. Because Parkinson’s affects your sensory system, you may think you are shouting when you are actually speaking very softly. Consistent therapy can help recalibrate your sensory system. During the treatment, your speech pathologist uses a decibel reader to check your voice loudness. This visual queue helps with the recalibration of your sensory system. The therapy also can improve swallowing and facial expressions, which are often difficult for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Improved Quality of Life

Parkinson’s symptoms get worse as the disease progresses, so it is important to find treatments that can help you maintain your quality of life.

“After therapy, many patients feel confident and more heard,” says Kendra. “When you are talking in a group setting or at a loud restaurant you will know to raise your voice and speak with intent so that everyone can hear you.”

Once you are through the initial Speak Out therapy program, there is a maintenance program called Loud Crowd. This group setting not only helps you maintain your voice, but provides a lot of emotional support and motivation.

“Once you have the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, you feel like you are at the mercy of the diagnosis,” says Kendra. “This therapy can empower you and make you feel like you have some control over the disease.”

If you would like to learn more about this program or make an appointment for Speak Out, call St. Elizabeth Healthcare Rehabilitation Services at (859) 301-5740.