Parkinson’s and Your Voice: The Essence of You

essence n. The intrinsic or indispensable properties that serve to characterize or identify something

This week I had the opportunity to participate in the Northeast Ohio Activities Professionals (NOAAP) conference.  The conference title was “Cultivating Culture Through Wellness,” and  topics  included: stress management, therapeutic dancing,  and the power of touch . Spending a day in such a fun and nurturing environment made me realize why I am often drawn to the activities professionals at the skilled nursing facility where I occasionally work . A group of individuals, who are creative, artistic, and fun, seemed a good fit for an introduction to Voice Aerobics ™.

One of the most interesting and entertaining speakers of the morning was an aromotherapist. She talked about the therapeutic properties of essential oils, and their predating the development of most pharmaceuticals so widely used in our culture. She spoke about the role of scents and smell in activating the limbic system of the brain, evoking memories emotions, and mood. With dramatic flair, she discussed the Latin derivative for the word “essential” or “essence”, and while doing so, made me begin to think about voice, as the essence of the individual spirit.

The day following the  NOAAP conference, and after speaking to a Parkinson’s support group,  I  gave further thought  to why the essence of an individual  is so linked to their voice. Similar to a scent  that evokes a quick memory of a person or place, the sound of one’s voice seems to also evoke reactions and responses from us that are quick and visceral. Beyond the message of the words, we respond and react to the pitch, the timbre, the tone, and when there is the absence of one’s voice due to illness or injury, it can make us feel abandoned, and  that a body, alone, will somehow not do.

Parkinson’s classification as a movement disorder draws a great deal of attention to managing the physical symptoms such as tremor and stiffness. This is understandable since on a day to day basis mobility issues can be problematic for individuals with the diagnosis. But if movement is improving, and voice fading, than the essence of the individual is also beginning to  fade. The husband who is walking next to his wife, but now with words that are inaudible, is fading from the relationship.

It is no wonder then, that improving or in some instances helping to restore voice, has become for me my work and my mission.  The need to discover and develop ways to preserve and strengthen voice that are fun was reinforced to me this week as I moved, hummed, and played among the activity therapists. Preserving and improving voice as the essence of who we are, I hope was the take home message to those who attended the Parkinson’s support group meeting, with a call to take action.

Mary Spremulli, MA, CCC-SLP resides in SW Florida, where she holds a speech- language pathology and nursing license with the mission of enlisting individuals in their treatment, and helping them express their personality & spirit through voice. She is founder of Voice Aerobics, LLC, a private practice, and is the author of Voice Aerobics DVD™, Voice Aerobics Grand Slam ™, and Voice Aerobics™ Songbirds CD, voice and exercise programs. The Voice Aerobics™ family of products blends the art and science of voice therapy into fun programs designed to be used independently by patients, and which may maximize function and reduce speech and voice symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Ms. Spremulli has worked in the health care field for over 25 years, and has lectured nationally and internationally on health related topics. Ms Spremulli has published in the area of Clinical Ethics and Patients Education. For more information, please visit or

Posted: 7/14/2011 1:59:53 PM by Cathy Whitlock

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