Benefis Program Amplifies the Voices of Parkinson’s Patients

As Parkinson’s disease began to take his voice, Stan Schopp found his isolation growing. He stopped offering greetings; he kept his head down in the grocery store.

Then Stan began taking part in the national Parkinson Voice Project at Benefis Health System, which begins with an evaluation, then a course of one-on-one therapy sessions focusing on speech, voice, and cognitive exercises, and then weekly group speech therapy with the LOUD Crowd.

“I’m not afraid to talk to people anymore,” he said.

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that is known for causing shakiness and difficulties with balance and coordination.

What’s less known is that nine out of 10 people with Parkinson’s are at risk of developing a weak voice, which can lead to serious speech and swallowing issues, said Laurie Grisham, speech-language pathologist in the Benefis Outpatient Therapy Center.

Speaking difficulties can damage confidence and make people feel invisible as others stop talking to them. The swallowing issues can lead to choking and aspiration, which can result in pneumonia – even death from pneumonia – poor nutrition, dehydration, and also a disinclination to eat with others.

“We have a lot of resources for speech, language, and voice,” Laurie said. “We work on voice, articulation, and cognition.”

The Parkinson’s speech program at Benefis began in 2018, and the group continued through COVID-19 restrictions via telemedicine. Members are meeting in person again and glad to be reunited.

Laurie said her patients find relief that they can advance through therapy.

“It absolutely works and makes a difference,” she said. “They all look forward to it.”

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While he doesn’t anticipate getting better – the disease is degenerative – the program has helped with his speech, Stan said.

“Laurie gets us using what we have,” he said.

The group is a safe space where everyone has the same affliction, Stan added. They can talk about symptoms, medications, coping strategies, and more with people who are experiencing the same obsticals.

“We laugh, we kid, we talk about our families,” he said. “I really believe in the program. You get intertwined with the group and their lives. You can actually talk to someone about what we’re going through, and no one who doesn’t have this can understand – and it’s just fun.”

The Parkinson Voice Project offers these questions to help you determine whether you may have an issue:

Do people ask you to repeat yourself?

Does your voice sound hoarse, scratchy, or breathy?

Does your family say you speak too softly?

Do you clear your throat often?

Is your voice strong on some days and weak on other days?

Do you cough when you eat or drink?