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Dramatic Gains for Patients with Parkinson’s

Dramatic Gains for Patients with Parkinson’s

Special to the Journal By Phyllis Mazurski, MS, CCC-SLP


Parkinson’s disease is widespread in the United States. This chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disorder affects 1.5 million people, with associated annual costs of about $34 billion in direct health care for patients, disability compensation, and lost productivity. The average age of onset is at 60 years and the risk for developing Parkinson’s increases with age.


As the condition progresses, the ability to walk and move about freely diminishes. One of the most difficult aspects of Parkinson’s disease, however, is its impact on a person’s ability to communicate. Because Parkinson’s affects the muscles in the throat and larynx, speech becomes quieter, softer, more breathy, and less intelligible. It becomes difficult to articulate and the voice drops into a monotone. Many people with Parkinson’s choose to retire from their jobs because it becomes increasingly difficult to be understood. They often become isolated.


Eighty-nine percent of people with Parkinson’s have speech and voice problems, yet only about 4 percent of them actually receive speech treatment.


Is there effective vocal therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease?


Yes, the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment for Parkinson’s disease is a very effective approach to speech treatment. I am trained and certified in this program and have had very good success with it in helping Parkinson’s patients. We have had people come through this program at the age of 90 who have made wonderful progress and regained significant vocal quality.


How is this approach different from traditional speech-language therapy?


The Lee Silverman approach is different in that it is quite intensive. The patient meets with his or her speech-language therapist four times a week for four weeks and also practices at home. Each treatment session requires maximum effort on the part of patients in order to achieve their goals. Patients do the same exercises on a daily basis because repetition really helps to incorporate the new behaviors they are learning.


How do I know if I’m a good candidate for this kind of therapy?


Your doctor will refer you to a speech-language pathologist for a speech evaluation. Our department is located at Cayuga Medical Center in the Outpatient Services area, just inside the main entrance. If you are an appropriate candidate and are interested in committing the time and effort, we can commence with therapy.


What do the daily exercises entail?


Your homework will be specific to you and your goals. Having said that, most people with Parkinson’s do share some typical symptoms, one of which is abnormal sensory perception. Over the course of the illness as their voices gradually change, individuals with Parkinson’s become accustomed to speaking quietly. As a result, they perceive that they are speaking at a sufficiently loud volume, even though people around them have trouble hearing them.


From the very start of their speech therapy, people engaged in Lee Silverman Voice Treatment must begin immediately to use their new, louder voice outside of their therapy sessions. Together, we identify specific phrases they use every day and we practice saying those phrases in a new voice. Then, when they use that same expression spontaneously at home, it triggers the learning process. When a patient leaves the first therapy session, the first piece of homework is to greet their spouse or friend in the waiting room with their new, louder voice. The response is always positive and the patient gets immediate feedback that their new voice is being well received.


While it’s true that Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, if you get treatment and stay active and productive, you can extend and improve your quality of life. Every patient we’ve worked with using the Lee Silverman Treatment program has made very significant gains in their voice quality. The results have been quite dramatic.


If you want to find out more, please call (607) 274-4504. We would be happy to talk with you.


Phyllis Mazurski, MS, CCC-SLP is a certified speech-language pathologist who is trained and certified in the Lee Silverman Treatment Program for Parkinson’s disease. She works in the Department of Rehabilitation at Cayuga Medical Center where she can be reached at (607) 274-4504.















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