Parkinson’s patients who are experiencing speech and communication difficulties are being helped to talk, take part in conversations and even joke with loved ones again thanks to a programme running in Wrexham.
The specialist speech therapy programme, which is being run by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, is helping people with Parkinson’s regain control over their speech, and develop a newfound confidence.
Held in community hospitals in Wrexham and Flintshire, patients and their families are invited to take part in the intensive nine-week programme before continuing their exercises and activities at home.
Speech difficulty and impaired communication are among the main symptoms often experienced with Parkinson’s. The deterioration of muscle strength and flexibility often results in people with the disease speaking with very low volume as well as other difficulties, such as a faster rate of speech and reduced facial expression.
The therapy encourages patients to practice the skills needed to increase the volume of their speech, helping them be better understood and having a positive knock-on effect on other symptoms of speech deterioration.
The therapy involves patients working together and with a family member to practice techniques and get feedback specific to their own condition. The therapy includes using decibel monitoring devices to measure an increase in the volume of their voice.
The ‘Think Loud’ principles of these techniques are shown to have a positive effect on the clarity of patients’ voices and the confidence of their communication.
The group therapy sessions run at regular intervals throughout the year to meet demand from service users. The Health Board also offers catch up clinics for patients who have completed the course and need a refresher to focus on the techniques they need to incorporate into their everyday lives.
Cara Spencer, Head of Speech and Language Therapy for the East area said the programme is ‘making a real difference to our patients’ lives’.
“There are very specific speech and communication difficulties associated with Parkinson’s Disease, which include volume so quiet that people are not able to join in day to day interactions,” said Cara.
“Without specific support and feedback, people with Parkinson’s Disease aren’t able to make the changes needed to improve this. Research shows that by supporting improved volume, patients improve a number of impaired aspects of their communication.
“It’s an intensive course – patients visit the clinic for 90 minutes a week, but are expected to continue the programme at home, practicing every day. There’s a number of other activities that we set participants to carry out, helping them put the techniques they learn in the programme into practice in everyday life.
“Feedback from the sessions has been extremely positive. We’ve heard from participants who can now take part in conversations again, having previously only been able to listen to what their loved ones were saying.
“We’ve heard stories about how participants now have the confidence to meet and greet new members at Parkinson’s UK group meetings, and even being able to tell jokes again, feeling like they are able to be themselves again.
“It’s restoring a tangible quality of life to patients, and making a general difference to patients’ overall wellbeing.”
Alongside the group therapy programme, which is being developed now across North Wales, speech and language therapy services located across the Health Board have joined forces to review the latest research to support individual and group therapy programmes for the future.
Speech and language therapists also support people with Parkinson’s in multi-disciplinary clinics, enabling patients to get team support from fewer appointments, and supporting them at the earliest opportunity as they identify any issues with communication or swallowing, where therapies can often have the biggest impact.
Speech and Language Therapy teams from across North Wales are also taking part in the Parkinson’s UK audit, in which the charity assesses the quality and breadth of services for people with the disease across the UK.