Getting the most out of speech and language therapy for Parkinson's

Speech and communication problems are common for people with Parkinson’s. The condition can also affect swallowing. Speech and language therapy can help you to manage symptoms.

Speech and Language Therapist Ruth McArthur shares her tips to help you get the most out of the therapy.

Don’t wait to speak to a speech and language therapist

Ideally you should speak to a speech and language therapist as soon as you can after you’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. They can spot subtle changes in your communication or swallowing you might not be aware of. Understanding your symptoms can help you to deal with any issues before they become more difficult to manage.   

A speech and language therapist can also give you useful information about problems that may occur in future. This may be around how to spot them and what can be done about them.  

Many speech and language services have an ‘open referral’ system which means that you can refer yourself to your local team. Some local services need a referral from your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse.

Get help for swallowing or saliva problems

Your speech and language therapist can support you with any problems you have with eating and drinking and managing your saliva.

They can help you to understand how the swallow mechanism can be affected by Parkinson’s and how this relates to issues, such as drooling.

They may be able to suggest simple tips about your posture or how to make some foods easier to swallow. Apps such as ‘Swallow Prompt’ can also be helpful.  

Look out for visual clues

If you're concerned your speech is being affected, it can be helpful to notice family or friends’ reactions when you are talking to them. For example, do they ask you to repeat what you’ve said, or lean in when you talk? 

Your speech and language therapist can help you and your family and friends to become more aware of problems. For example, talking more quietly, slurred sounds, or being slower at getting into and keeping pace with conversations.

They can help you to recognise when communication is breaking down and how you can work together to get your conversation back on track. 

Use technology

There are a variety of apps available, which can help you to monitor your speech when you are practising at home. 

The ‘Voice Analyst’ app allows you to save recordings, which you can share with your therapist and track progress. Your speech and language therapist can help you to choose an app that will work best for you.

Another helpful technology is Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC). This can be useful for if you're experiencing more advanced symptoms. AAC includes a variety of equipment that can be used alongside speech to communicate everyday basic needs and support off-the-cuff conversation too. 

Make the most of your voice

Taking your medication at the right time will help you to manage your symptoms more effectively. If you think your medication is affecting your communication, speak to your speech and language therapist, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse. 

Medication can improve some aspects of speech, but it usually won’t improve the overall clarity of your speech. 
Speech and language therapy exercises are an effective way to make everyday communication easier. Maintaining good communication skills does take effort. 

It’s almost always possible to make improvements, but regular practice is crucial.