Getting to know... a Parkinson's speech and language therapist

Sheila Wight is Advanced Practitioner, Speech and Language Therapist at Denton Park Health Centre, Newcastle.

Speech and language therapy is such an important tool in helping people manage Parkinson’s. A person with Parkinson’s may find that their confidence in communicating starts to decrease but being able to communicate effectively is instrumental to our enjoyment of life. It helps us maintain relationships and have a rewarding social life. I love being able to help people with Parkinson’s benefit from these things. 

Our speech and language therapy team in Newcastle was one of the first to have dedicated sessions for Parkinson’s from around 2001. I have been working in the team since 2004. Day to day I assess people with Parkinson’s on speech or swallowing issues and give feedback on my findings.

Sometimes giving people advice is sufficient, other times we discuss options for treatment. Often people with Parkinson’s may have mild swallowing problems, for example dry foods sticking in the throat. But basic information and advice really helps people manage these types of problems.  

One of the best techniques I use to help people manage their speech is Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT). The sessions focus on training a louder, stronger voice and helping people put that into action day to day. It won’t work for everyone but if your speech and language therapist completes an assessment and thinks it’s right for you, then it’s a great way to improve your voice and your confidence. I have been doing the training for the last 15 years and love seeing the improvements people make by the end of the course.

Remember that you may not be aware that your speech is changing. But look for signs from family and friends. Are people leaning in when you speak? Are they asking you to repeat what you’ve said? Getting a referral as soon as you notice these things is the best way of getting help. In fact, everyone with a new diagnosis of Parkinson’s should be referred to a speech and language therapist for the best support while changes to speech are still small. 

Working at maintaining good communication skills should be viewed the same as maintaining good physical health. Exercising your voice is crucial. The more you work at your speech with the help of your speech and language therapist, the better your improvements will be.

Find out more about speech and language therapy for Parkinson's