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Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurosystem disorder that affects movement, according to the Mayo Clinic. Early stages can be subtle and often mistaken for normal aging. As it progresses, individuals will begin to experience tremors, slowed movement or shuffling, rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, and loss of automatic movements such as blinking, smiling, etc. Symptoms affect daily function and motor skills.
A lesser known fact is that Parkinson’s disease can negatively impact our voice. Parkinson’s diseases causes hoarseness, vocal weakness and even stuttering. Losing the ability to speak can lead to depression and isolation, as well as difficulty eating and swallowing. An individual with Parkinson’s disease may notice others are constantly struggling to hear him or her. Their voice is softer than it used to be, and may become gravelly and shaky. As it becomes more difficult to speak, the individual may choose to speak less. This inactivity can lead to even weaker vocal muscles, worsening the problem.
For Parkinson’s sufferers, research has proven that speech, physical and occupational therapy may strengthen muscles and slow the disease’s progression. One such program is the Parkinson’s Voice Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing loud, clear speech back to those living with Parkinson’s disease. Loud speech therapy takes patients with softened voices and retrains them to speak at a higher volume with more confidence. This sounds easy enough to implement, but for an individual living with Parkinson’s disease, it can be daunting to even admit that the disease is progressing. While many people are willing to try anything to alleviate and slow their symptoms, others struggle to even admit they suffer. Accepting treatment may feel like admitting failure.
If your loved one suffers from Parkinson’s disease, it’s important to engage with them more, not less. But you might need to approach gently, especially if the individual is unwilling to seek professional help. You may notice the individual is losing self-confidence. They may be more sedentary than they used to be, and less talkative. Speak to them anyway. A tendency in well-meaning family and friends is to constantly ask about the disease and symptoms. Take a break from that. Invite them on a walk and ask them non-threatening questions about their life, experiences, joys, and hobbies. Gently guide your loved one into storytelling, listening actively and showing them you are still interested in what they have to say. Storytelling is an art that increases our knowledge, builds understanding with people who are different than ourselves, and helps us organize our experiences and thoughts. Storytelling is a tool that can invite a Parkinson’s sufferer to temporarily forget their pain and engage with another person in meaningful conversation. Be patient but consistent. Being intentional in small, regular practices builds to larger accomplishments. The important thing is to keep encouraging and motivating your loved one through organic, non-threatening activities that encourage movement and speech interactions.
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that you seek medical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.