Speech Program Gives Parkinson’s a Voice: November 7, 2013

Among the many things Parkinson’s disease steals is speech. Jerry Bramlet struggled with his.

“Throat muscles lose their ability just like any other muscles. So Parkinson’s is a disease where the brain tells your body to do something, it just doesn’t follow it,” says Bramlet.

It is one of the more common features of Parkinson’s. Nathalie Grondin evaluates patients and helps them access therapy, including the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment.

“The underlying gist of LSVT is that everything has to be done loudly. The tendency for people with Parkinson’s is to have very, very, small movements. So they train how to use the voice muscles to project. It’s very intense - four times a week, one hour every session, for four weeks,” says Nathalie Grondin, physical therapist.

To regain his voice, Bramlet followed the program, working with a speech therapist from Lee Memorial Health System.

“It’s very structured. You start out with doing ‘ahhs’ for as long and loud as you can, ok then you do ‘ahh’ you raise the level of the pitch and then you lower your pitch and then we come up in the first session with ten functional phrases things that they would say like every day,” says Mary Jo Haughey, speech therapist.

The impact of this exercise-based program speaks volumes. A study on the LSVT program given at the recent World Parkinson’s Congress found 90% of patients gained a significant benefit. The biggest boost was in volume and clarity.

“The research has proven that just concentrating on that one parameter of speech will improve intelligibility. Quite often you’ll improve facial expressions. Once they speak loud everything increases. Their speech isn’t as mumbled,” says Haughey.

“It’s a hard class, but it’s a good class. Because they give you homework and you can’t cheat because they call you on the phone,” says Bramlet.

“It’s very, very intense training but it does wonders for people’s speech,” says Grondin.

Now researchers agree, the benefits come across, loud and clear.