sailor girlCommunication and Swallowing
Iris Lynn Maybruck, ED.D.

When I first began working with Parkinson's patients in 1978, the particular adults referred to me had been diagnosed with PD for 10 to 15 years and were in the debilitating stage of the disease. My overwhelming observation at the time was that the majority of these patients had only been given medication ... nothing else. No referrals to therapists of any kind, or at best, maybe physical therapy, and then maybe 5 to 10 years following onset. I recall thinking if only people could be educated to take some responsibility for their own care in managing Parkinson's, perhaps they could take steps to help prevent or diminish some of the problems of the disease.

Six years ago, based on my experience with a young patient in his early forties, I began to formulate techniques to assist individuals with PD to prevent those symptoms of the disease which affect communication and swallowing from growing worse and creating major problems. In order to know how to prevent communication and swallowing from growing worse, one first needs to be familiar with how PD can affect speech, language and swallowing.

When a person has PD, communication can be affected by changes which occur in the muscles that control breathing, voice, pronunciation and rate of speech. A Parkinsonian can also experience changes in the ability to chew and swallow solid foods and liquids. Furthermore, difficulties with thinking skills, such as memory, judgement and problem-solving may occur.

Not all people diagnosed with PD experience these difficulties. However, it is wise to be educated and equipped to deal with potential problems and to work towards preventing them, rather than to try to backtrack ten years down the road, after these problems have been in existence for awhile. By that time (and I have sadly observed this more than once in patients I have been asked to evaluate), it is very difficult to help the Parkinson's patient and family members with preventing further deterioration, since considerable damage has already been done. Additionally, at that stage the patient may have experienced so many problems other than communication and swallowing difficulties that he or she is not motivated to work on these issues.

For you young people diagnosed with PD, I implore you to take action ... even if you do not have any of the communication or swallowing symptoms that can occur with this disease. And, if you notice communication or swallowing problems beginning to surface, work on them now to possibly prevent more serious problems from surfacing later.

Important Tips

Upon being diagnosed with PD, get a speech-language swallowing evaluation from a qualified speech-language pathologist,preferably one who has experience working with Parkinson's patients.

Depending on the outcome of the evaluation, set up a short-term therapy program (to be decided upon by you, your therapist and your physician) to provide you with the techniques needed to work on your own (with coaching periodically from the speech-language pathologist, if necessary).

Along with your daily physical exercise regime, follow a communication and swallowing program which has been set up for you by a speech-language pathologist and stick to it!

Talk to family, friends and co-workers (if you are working) and ask them to let you know how you are doing. Ask them to note any changes that may occur, such as softer voice, slurred speech, or difficulty remembering. This will help you to evaluate your status.

Be aware of how you are affected when tired - this very often will reveal itself in your communication. Your speech may become slurred. This will alert you to take time out to rest.

Join a support group. Find a buddy with Parkinson's and keep in touch with him/her on a consistent basis. Work together, coach and support each other.

Form a communication/swallowing support group, if possible. Hire a speech-language pathologist to work with a group of 5 to 15 people on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. The whole group will be motivated and will benefit.

Stay active socially, and don't be afraid to talk about the fact that you have PD. Your openness may help someone else who may also have been diagnosed with it, or who may have symptoms of the disease.

Resolve to keep your life as normal as possible. Above all, enjoy life! Have fun, laugh, travel, see movies. Do whatever it is that turns you on to life. And, for those of you who have put this off, do it now! Savor life. This will assist you to live with PD.

You can learn to cope with PD and the communication and swallowing problems that might accompany it.

Communication and Swallowing Suggestions


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