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I have Parkinson’s Disease… when should I see a speech therapist?

The simple answer is… NOW. Let’s start by exploring what speech therapy is and how a speech therapist can support you in all stages of your journey with Parkinson’s Disease.

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) or speech therapists help to support many more areas than the name describes. The following are areas that speech therapists work with related to people with Parkinson’s Disease.

  • Speech Skills: Speech therapists work with breath support and coordination, volume of speech, prosody or variation of the pitch which helps communicate emotion, and clarity of speech.

  • Language skills: Speech therapists can help to improve the ability to find the right words, formulate thoughts or form logical sentences in conversation.

  • Cognition, or thinking skills: Speech therapists can help provide compensatory strategies to help maintain successful navigation of work and home daily skills like organization, problem-solving, and memory despite challenges due to neurological diseases, like PD.

  • Swallowing skills: Speech therapists help to assess, rehabilitate or maintain safety and efficiency while eating and drinking foods, liquids, and taking medications.

Often people will think that they should wait until they have a problem with the above skills before reaching out to a speech therapist. With Parkinson’s Disease, it is recommended to consult a speech therapist for an assessment and education soon after receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. This will help you feel more prepared and knowledgeable about the resources available to support your journey with PD. Exercise is medicine for people with Parkinson’s Disease and that

includes exercising your lungs, voice, swallowing muscles, and brain. A speech therapist specifically trained to work with people with Parkinson’s Disease can help you find resources to exercise these key areas. Reaching out to a speech therapist early in your journey with PD will also help you to have a personalized support person for any questions or concerns along the way.

After you have established a relationship with a speech-language pathologist for education and resources, the following are various additional services that an SLP can provide.

  • Assessment: A speech therapist can assess the areas listed above that you or a loved one feel may be challenging for you at the moment. If it’s harder to concentrate or stay organized at work, or you’re feeling more out of breath while talking or exercising, a speech therapist can help to determine what aspects may be causing those difficulties.

  • Compensatory: After the speech therapist determines the cause of the challenge, strategies are taught to help you complete those tasks more efficiently and successfully. This may include various head positions for swallowing liquids or systems to lighten the load of your thinking skills.

  • Rehabilitation: In addition to teaching compensatory strategies to improve success in your tasks, a speech therapist can also help you to improve your strength, coordination, mental agility to improve functioning and decrease your need to use compensatory strategies. There are also intensive speech therapy intervention programs like SPEAK OUT! ® and LSVT LOUD® that can improve speech and swallowing skills 3 or 4 days a week for 4 weeks to improve your skills in a quicker timeframe.

  • Maintenance: It’s important to keep up the skills that you have. Participating in individual or group speech, cognition, and exercise classes can help you to continue to use and maintain your cognitive-communication skills. These groups could be a singing group, a book or cooking club, or other functional or hobby-related groups led by speech therapists.

  • Re-assessments: As you continue in your journey with Parkinson’s Disease, it is important to maintain your relationship with your speech therapist to check-in and participate in re-assessments if you notice changes or challenges with any of your cognitive, communication, or swallowing skills. You may need booster speech therapy sessions every once in a while to build up skills or adjust compensatory strategies to increase success in your everyday life.

Now that you know how supportive a speech therapist can be, it’s important to ensure that your therapist has specialty training and knowledge in Parkinson's Disease in order to receive the best care and the most up-to-date education, information, and resources to support your journey with Parkinson’s Disease. If you live in Ohio, you can call Polaris Speech and Neurological Rehabilitation at 330.227.4656 for specialty speech therapy in the Akron-Cleveland area or via telehealth visits throughout Ohio. If you are outside of the northeast Ohio area, you can find specialized speech therapists in your area by calling the Parkinson’s Foundation at 1-800-4PD-INFO (1-800-473-4636) and asking for a speech therapist in your area that has participated in the Parkinson Foundation Team Training. You can also use the following link to find an LSVT trained clinician or a SPEAK OUT! Trained clinician.

As you have read, a speech therapist can be a supportive member of your team from day one and can serve as a partner in your care throughout your journey just as your movement specialist or physical therapist is. If you have worked with a speech therapist, please leave a comment below and let others know how an SLP has been helpful and supportive throughout your journey with Parkinson’s Disease.

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