World Parkinson’s Day: LOUD Crowd Helps Members Use Their Voices

​Speaking with intention — it's a skill and ability many take for granted. For Mark Hibbert, it's a skill and ability he is strengthening after Parkinson's impacted his speech.

Mark attends weekly meetings of the  LOUD Crowd, a therapy group offered through Benefis and the national Parkinson Voice Project. He joined the group during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so sessions were held online via Zoom, but now he and the dozen or so regular attendees are back to meeting in person.

"Everybody's in the same predicament that I'm in," Mark explains. "There's camaraderie in that higher level of understanding."

Parkinson's can cause a person to speak at a lower volume, at a faster rate, with a flat affect, in monotone, or it can cause slurring. Swallowing can also be a challenge as the disease progresses.

Members of the group begin a month of one-on-one vocal therapy sessions before joining LOUD Crowd, where they work through vocal exercises to maintain progress and promote skill use.

The group's time is planned with intent, too. After vocal exercises, members participate in activities aimed at improving cognitive function. Mark enjoys "sharpening his mind" along with his speech skills.

Laurie Grisham is a speech-language pathologist in the Benefis Outpatient Therapy Center. She sees new members hesitate to interact with others when they start the group, but that quickly changes.

"They really watch out for each other and have built strong relationships," Laurie adds. "Many report it's the highlight of their week."

The social support the group provides extends to spouses, too. Mark's wife, Shirleen, attends the meetings with him and says she has seen a great deal of improvement since her husband joined the LOUD Crowd.

"I see him use intent with his speech," she says, "and I can remind him when he isn't."

The Parkinson's speech program at Benefis began in 2018. The national Parkinson Voice Project provides grant funding and curriculum support for the LOUD Crowd group, which is free to attend.

For Mark, the group is equal parts vocal therapy and emotional support. "It's always nice to spend time with people in the same boat as you," he says.

Read more: Benefis Program Amplifies the Voices of Parkinson’s Patients and Tips for Determining Whether You May Have an Issue