Although symptoms vary from person to person, some individuals with Parkinson’s disease have speech and swallowing problems. For many, trouble with speech is an early symptom of the disease. Even if this symptom occurs at a later stage, a large majority of people (up to 89%) with Parkinson’s experience speech difficulties at some point.
Often, people with Parkinson’s disease also have an impaired mouth, tongue, and throat muscles, making it hard to swallow. Whether you suffer from any or all of these symptoms, a speech-language therapist can teach you techniques to maintain your communication skills and condition the muscles you need for swallowing.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Speech Problems
Speech problems associated with Parkinson’s disease can take the form of speaking in a soft voice, not being able to articulate words clearly, stuttering when you first begin speaking, or speaking in a monotone- or hoarse-sounding voice. You may mumble, speak rapidly at times, or experience the loss of facial expression. Regardless of what forms your speech problems take, they can affect how you communicate with others.
Patients may receive benefits when drugs doctors use to treat Parkinson’s disease are prescribed in combination with speech therapy. Speech-language therapy can help you speak more clearly, teach you how to talk louder, and help you improve the inflection in your voice.
Your speech-language therapist may suggest that you exaggerate how you pronounce consonants and practice expressing yourself using short, concise sentences. Instruction in proper breathing technique is another aspect of treatment that can help you pace your speech.
However, if traditional speech therapy treatments aren’t producing beneficial results, the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) — a speech therapy program designed for Parkinson’s patients — can provide more longer-lasting improvement. The program focuses on helping patients with Parkinson’s disease overcome the sensory processing deficit related to their speech.
Participation in the treatment program involves learning that what may sound too loud to you is actually a normal volume of speech. Since your voice is weak, increasing loudness is also key to improving articulation and rate of speech. But when these treatments don’t provide adequate results, a speech-language therapist can recommend assistive devices to help you communicate.
Symptoms of Swallowing Problems
Dysphagia — or difficulty swallowing — is another common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. An additional problem associated with swallowing is not swallowing often enough. This allows saliva to accumulate in your mouth, which can cause you to drool.
The inability to swallow also increases the risk of aspirating or developing pneumonia. Difficulty swallowing can lead to additional complications, including dehydration, weight loss, and malnutrition.
Signs of trouble swallowing may include liquids going down the wrong way when you drink and the feeling that food gets stuck in your throat when you eat. Problems chewing and gagging, coughing, or choking when you swallow are other symptoms that people with the disease can suffer from.
A speech-language pathologist can instruct you to exercise the muscles you use to swallow. He or she will also teach you strategies to help you swallow and avoid choking. Along with speech therapy treatment, your doctor may recommend waiting to eat meals until after your Parkinson’s medications have taken effect.
Following evaluation, a speech-language therapist may recommend modifying the solid foods and liquids you consume. For example, thickening liquids may be necessary to prevent them from getting into the airway. Pureeing foods is another way to make swallowing easier so that you don’t choke.
For help with speech difficulties and swallowing problems related to Parkinson’s disease or other neurological disorders, contact Lake Centre for Rehab. Our speech-language pathologists provide speech and swallowing treatment services to improve your quality of life.