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Communicating with confidence

This blog is written by Peninsula Health Speech Pathologist Sharon Flitman (pictured above). 

Imagine thinking that everyone around you is deaf.

For many people with Parkinson’s disease, this is a daily reality. Not because people with Parkinson’s have a higher proportion of hearing-impaired friends and relatives, of course. Rather, Parkinson’s disease simultaneously softens speech and stuffs up the brain’s perception of speech loudness.

As such, people with Parkinson’s often feel as though they are ‘shouting’ when speaking at an entirely normal volume. And to avoid shouting, they speak at a level that seems normal to them; generally too muted for others to hear.

Fortunately, effective evidence-based treatments exist to pump up the power in people with Parkinson’s voices and ‘recalibrate’ their perception of their own speech volume.

Lee-Silverman Voice Therapy is one such tool. This structured speech program involves intensive almost daily sessions for four consecutive weeks. And to accommodate the cognitive challenges Parkinson’s often presents, it has one sole focus; speaking LOUDLY.

Why the focus on loudness?

Speaking loudly does much more than simply turning up the volume. It influences a whole host of other speech and non-speech mechanisms ranging from speech clarity and naturalness to breath support and even facial expression.

Given the intensity of the Lee Silverman Voice Therapy program, it’s not an approach that suits every client. But most of the tenacious souls who persist through the program experience remarkable gains. And not only in regards to the clarity of their speech.

Many program graduates report an increased willingness to participate socially. Improved initiation to communicate and connect with family and friends. Elevated self-efficacy and confidence. Spending more time talking each day (once they no longer have to repeat every second sentence).

There’s no question that speech therapy is a terrific tool to help people with Parkinson’s to remain connected and communicating.

But as a friend, relative or carer of someone with Parkinson’s, you can also help.

Tip #1: Optimise your environment

Given that people with Parkinson’s often speak very softly, background sound can compound communication challenges.

  • If possible, turn off televisions and radios while you are chatting.
  • If it’s not possible to switch off background noise, move to a quieter area or close a door to block out some of the surrounding sound.
  • Sit or stand close together and face each other.

You’ll be amazed by how much easier conversations become when the environment is simply set up right!

Tip #2: Keep it simple

People with Parkinson’s often find it challenging to follow complicated conversations.

  • Large group chats can be particularly problematic, as they tend to move ferociously fast. When setting up social events, consider one-on-one or smaller group catch ups.
  • Tell people with Parkinson’s one thing at a time. Give them time to process before moving on.

Tip #3: Give them time to talk

People with Parkinson’s often take a little longer to process information and work out what they want to say. As such, family members and friends often want to jump in and answer questions on their behalf.

Unfortunately, this means many people with Parkinson’s feel isolated and cut off in communication contexts, be it a family gathering, doctor’s appointment or dinner at a restaurant.

Fortunately, the solution is simple; give the person extra time to collect their thoughts and find a way to put them into words. Sure, the silent time spent waiting can feel uncomfortable at first. And sure – they may not answer as efficiently as you would.

But everyone deserves a voice.

Speak to your GP or neurologist to obtain a referral to a Speech Pathologist.