Speech Therapy for Parkinson’s disease

Speech Therapy (ST) for Parkinson’s disease (PD) aims at treating communication impairment(s) by speech-language exercises and preventive measures. Helping PD fighters improve speech function or develop alternative means of communication, intensive exercises such as repeating certain words, reading-writing exercises, conversational rehearsal and the development of cues are often included in PD fighter’s ST program.

Since, the possible reduction in mental functioning in PD patients lead to cognitive challenges such as short-term memory limitations, slowing word retrieval, time and reduction in expressive language complexity, these problems can be addressed by the speech therapy in concent with caregivers.

Apart from improving speech and linguistic abilities, ST also helps PD fighters improve their swallowing function as some people develop an inability to manipulate food with the tongue and detect food that is stuck in the cheeks due to weak throat muscles.

How does speech therapy for Parkinson’s disease work?

Speech, language, voice and swallowing disorders are common among patients with moderate to significant PD. In many cases, the first sign of significant Parkinson’s is reduced voice power and increased rate of utterance. One of the Parkinson’s symptoms, poor breath, results in slurred and unclear speech. Furthermore, Dysphagia (swallowing difficulty) can severely limit a PD patient’s ability to speak clearly. Other communication impairments may include poor precision and strength of pronunciation and reductions in expressive language complexity.

As PD patients often experience slow mental functioning and memory loss, their language formulation and expression are also impacted. When these communication issues become dominant in everyday activities, the PD fighter may begin to withdraw from necessary daily communication activities, being highly prone to clinical depression.

Speech and language therapists specialize in all aspects of communication, including non-verbal communication. Since PD patients may also develop Aphasia (poor speaking, understanding, reading and writing competency), Dysarthria (slurred speech) and Apraxia (difficulty planning motor movements to form sounds and words), a speech-language therapist conducts an initial assessment to address:

  • Difficulty understanding the names of people and objects
  • Difficulty understanding instructions and directions
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Difficulty speaking in single words, short sentences
  • Putting words in the wrong order
  • Mixing up words

With speech and language therapists’ help, some PD patients are able to resolve communication problems such as difficulty in putting thoughts into words. Vocal cord exercises focusing on sustained single syllables help some patient improve their existing speech competency. Treating the communication impairment with individualized program results in improved speech-voice-language and cognitive rehabilitation.

Therapy for improving swallowing function

Because the neuromuscular deficits in Parkinson’s also affect the swallowing muscles, patients may experience difficulty in chewing certain foods properly, choking on liquids or Esophageal Motility Disorders.

Since the muscles in the tongue and throat used in making sounds are the same, ST can also help PD fighters with improving swallowing function. Speech-language experts help the individual reduce delayed swallowing reflex and improve the patient’s posture during eating.  

With recommendations regarding proper positioning, feeding techniques, and possible changes in the consistency of food and drink, symptoms like difficulty to swallow, coughing or gagging while swallowing, drooling, weak voice, affected tongue control and lost gag reflex are targeted.