Cynthia Dubose, a speech pathologist, visited the Newnan Parkinson’s Support Group to discuss the effects of Parkinson’s Disease on the throat and mouth muscles.
“We mainly think of it as affecting walking, but it also affects your speech muscles, your lips and your tongue,” she said.
Dubose said she feels her job is just as important as the physical therapy used to treat Parkinson’s patients, as her work helps her patients continue to socialize.
“What I’m trying to help people do is communicate, talk, socialize and help them continue eating and drinking without having difficulty,” Dubose said. “If you start to lose one of those things from your social life, you’ll start to feel isolated.”
Dubose said her work focuses on providing compensatory strategies and exercise.
“It’s trying different strategies to keep that food and liquid from getting in your airway,” Dubose said. “The second part is exercise. How do we get those muscles stronger so you’re not getting that food in your airway?”
A compensatory strategy Dubose suggests for patients with Parkinson’s is to adjust their head position, using a straw and taking smaller sips when drinking.
For exercise, she showed an expiratory muscle strength trainer, a small valve for the user to blow into. The goal, she said, is to get air to flow through the device. The patient can increase the resistance, requiring them to blow harder and further strengthen their muscles.
According to Dubose, people with Parkinson’s Disease have difficulty swallowing and speaking because the brain processes information at a slower rate.
The second part of Dubose’s talk focused on vocal volume.
“Sometimes with Parkinson’s, you get this low volume and quiet voice without a lot of effort behind it,” she said.
“Before the training and exercises, it was not only difficult to communicate because my voice was so low, but people around me could not understand what I was saying,” said Skip Rader, a member of the group.
Dubose emphasized that increasing the loudness of their voices will require effort from the members of the support group. She said by practicing “big mouth movements,” vocal volume can increase.
“You’re working on increasing loudness,” she said. “It completely changes your speech.”
The Newnan Parkinson’s Support Group meets the second Tuesday of each month at First United Methodist Church of Newnan. Their next meeting will feature Windy Dye, a pharmacist, as a speaker on July 10.