About 75 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) experience changes in speech and voice. These changes usually come on gradually and can vary from mild to severe. In the newest Parkinson’s Foundation educational book, Speech and Swallowing, we cover the symptoms, tools and exercises that can help you or a loved one better understand and manage speech, swallowing, voice, communication and cognitive problems in PD.
In addition to seeing a speech-language pathologist, there are some strategies that you, your family and your friends can use to improve communication.
Take Care of Your Voice
Practice good “voice hygiene” with these tips:
- Drink plenty of water or other liquids each day (non-caffeine and non-alcoholic).
- Do not strain your voice by shouting over loud noise when you talk.
- Rest your voice when it is tired. Like other muscles in your body, the muscles controlling your speech need a break sometimes.
- Reduce throat clearing or coughing.
- If the air is dry in your home, consider using a humidifier.
Posture is important for voice and speech. Keeping an upright posture and a straight neck (and slightly lifted chin) helps you to move air from your lungs through your vocal cords, which then vibrate to produce the sound waves that make your voice. Motor changes associated with PD (and aging) can make it more difficult to maintain an ideal posture. Exercise, stretching and yoga can help.
The best way to practice talking is to talk! The saying “use it or lose it” applies to speech, too. If you don’t have a companion to talk to, talk out loud to yourself.
Singing and Voice
Singing uses the same muscles that are used for speech. Singing your favorite songs out loud is not only great exercise — it can help you feel good emotionally, too. Be careful not to strain or force your voice beyond what is comfortable.
TIP: To find a speech language pathologist or a speech-related program near you, call the Parkinson’s Foundation Helpline 1-800-4PD-INFO (473.4636).
Tips for Family and Friends
Remember a good conversation takes two (or more). Social engagement and maintaining social ties are important for both emotional and cognitive health. While there are steps that the person with PD can take, it is important that conversation partners also improve their conversation skills.
- Have important or more challenging conversations when the person with PD is well-rested and at their ‘best’ time of day.
- Get face-to-face. Minimize having conversations between rooms. Make sure that the lighting is optimized so that you can see your partner’s face and mouth movements clearly.
- Reduce background noise. Turn off the radio and TV, close car windows and shut doors to noisy areas.
- Learn to look for signals that your conversation partner is having difficulty engaging — requests for repetition, fidgeting or being distracted.
- Be aware that people with PD may not accurately express their emotions through facial expressions because of rigid facial muscles.
- Be patient. Allow ample time for the person with PD to communicate.
- Minimize talking ‘for’ the person with PD or filling in their responses unless they ask you to do so.
- Provide help and repeat or rephrase what you said (without elevating your volume or excessively slowing your speech rate).