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Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a common degenerative disease affecting healthy brain function in adults. The disease irreparably damages an area of the midbrain called the substantia nigra which is responsible for the production of dopamine, a chemical which modulates brain cell communication. Poor cell communication in particular, affects the movement processing centers deep in the center of the brain and leads to the cardinal symptoms of tremor, rigid movement, postural instability and slowing.

Speech, voice and swallowing symptoms are often experienced by people with Parkinson’s disease. This pattern of symptoms is due to reduced control of the bodies muscles used for speech, voicing and swallowing. Although problems with movement are the most visible signs of Parkinson’s disease autonomic, cognitive, psychiatric and sensory symptoms are often typical. These changes may come to affect how people with Parkinson’s disease communicate with others. The role of a speech-language pathologist is to assess and treat the many symptoms in Parkinson’s disease as they affect communication or swallowing.

Speech problems in Parkinson’s disease known as dysarthria are assessed using a combination of oral exam, acoustic analysis, standardized tests, survey instruments and patient interview. Common treatments include behavioral stimulation to increase loudness known as Lee Silverman Voice Treatment and may include speech therapy or the use of augmentative and assistive devices to regulate pacing, fluency and improve articulation.

Swallowing issues known as dysphagia are assessed by a speech-language pathologist using instrumental techniques such as Videofluoroscopy and Fiberoptic Endoscopic Evaluation of Swallowing (FEES) along with surveys and direct patient interview. Treatment focuses on re-training swallow behaviors to improve, coordinate and strengthen the muscles used for swallowing.

Other communication problems are assessed by standardized tests, surveys and patient interview and treatments includes a range of behavioral interventions and software programs developed to re-train impaired aspects of cognition (memory and thinking) to support effective communication and to maximize opportunities for social, occupational and community participation.

The Speech-Language Institute at Midwestern University offers assessment and treatment of impairments associated with Parkinson’s disease. Professors with expertise in Parkinson’s disease work with graduate student clinicians to assess and remediate these communication and swallowing disorders.

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Speech-Language Pathology

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