It is suspected that from sixty to ninety percent of individuals who develop Parkinsons disease have problems at some point in time with their speech. For instance the affected person might speak in a monotone voice that is softer than normal- a condition known as hypophonia– they may hesitate before putting their thoughts into words, they may talk faster than normal or perhaps they might slur their words. Some people with Parkinsons disease develop the tendency to repeat the same words over and over again while others develop a hoarseness quality to their speech.
Dysarthria is the name given to another speech impairment that makes itself known by such traits as a weak, slow and/or less than coherent speech pattern. Both the pitch and volume of speech can be affected by dysarthia.
Speech problems of this kind have a tendency to gradually get worse, and not better, with the passage of time. However with the guidance of a skilled speech therapist, individuals suffering with these problems can show improvements.
Speech therapy, when combined with other kinds of medicine used to treat Parkinsons disease, can prove to be extremely beneficial. Speech therapy is particularly helpful for those Parkinsons sufferers who have developed problems with volume and monotonous speech.
There are multiple types of speech therapies in use; studies have not proven conclusively that one is in any way superior to the others. However the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (abbreviated to LSVT) has been used often and has found much success. This technique often aids those not only suffering from speech related problems but with difficulties swallowing as well. LSVT is comprised of five main parts.
First of all there is a focus on strengthening the vocal cords (for example by practicing talking really loud and sometimes even shouting). Secondly, there is a huge effort put into pushing patients past their comfort levels and encouraging them to go beyond what limits them. Thirdly, the treatment can be intensive and grueling (for example four sessions a week, equaling sixteen a month).
The fourth is calibration, in other words coming to understand as well as acknowledge the effort that is required to make normal verbal sounds and the support to make it become a normal part of oneself.
Finally, the last is quantification, which simply means that the Parkinsons patient requires feedback on a regular basis as to how he/she is doing with the therapy. This helps spur the individual on.
Other therapy options for Parkinsons patients include following a regular exercise program, gait training and reducing muscle freezing. Exercise programs can be separated into two categories, passive and active. Passive exercise is most often in the form of stretching muscles to prevent them from shortening. Active exercise, which includes such things as raising the legs up and down, marching in one spot and making circles with the arms is useful in improving speed and coordination of muscles.
Gait training helps to improve a patients balance and is practiced by way of walking, standing and turning around. In those suffering from Parkinsons disease muscle freezing (muscle rigidity) takes place when the person first begins to take a step or move around.
Walkers have not proven to be beneficial for this problem but other simple actions can be undertaken to prevent spasms from occurring. These include lifting the toes, rocking the body from side to side, listening to music and humming along to your favorite songs, being gently touched, for example on the shoulder or arm, by another person and dividing large actions into smaller ones so as not to overwhelm oneself.