Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, neurological motor disorder caused by loss of dopamine producing cells in the brain. Although there is currently no cure for Parkinsons Disease, the symptoms can be significantly reduced by various prescribed medications which replenish some of the missing dopamine.
Parkinson’s disease progresses differently for different people. For some, the speech or swallowing are affected. Parkinsonian speech is classically quiet with reduced intonation and facial expression. Sometimes the speech gets faster and faster, which can make it difficult to understand. Friends or family of people with Parkinsons often complain that their speech sounds “mumbly”.
Speech and Language therapists can help by teaching techniques to improve the loudness and clarity of speech. Alongside speech exercises, a Solution Focused approach can be useful to help rebuild confidence.
Chewing and swallowing problems (dysphagia) can also be an issue with Parkinsons. These can make meal times prolonged affairs which are no longer as enjoyable as they once were. There are additional risks of weight loss due to reduced food intake, and chest infections due to food or drink dropping into the airway and making their way into the lungs (aspiration). With Parkinsons this can occur with no coughing or other outward signs, and is known as “silent aspiration”.
Speech and Language Therapists can help by suggesting food consistencies, postures and techniques which will make eating and drinking as easy, safe and enjoyable as possible. SLTs need a doctor’s referral before working with some-one with dysphagia.