“Speak up!” or “Get your hearing checked!”? Tips for managing speech changes in Parkinson’s disease

The most common complaint regarding speech function that people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and their partners and other family members have is that their speech is softer or lower.  In fact, a soft, hoarse voice with difficulty or inability to get louder is one of the hallmark features of speech changes with PD. Other changes include a fast rate of speech, with imprecise articulation.

What can be done?

What comes as a surprise for many people is that there are speech exercises that can combat these changes.  While it may seem overly simple, committing to exercising your speech system daily can have a large positive impact on your ability to communicate with family and friends.  The following are some speech tasks that target the changes most likely to occur in PD:

Pitch Glides – To stretch and warm-up your vocal cords

  1. Glide from a low pitch to a high pitch on the sound “ah” (rhymes with ‘saw’)
  2. Glide from a high pitch to a low pitch on the sound “ah”

Maximum Phonation – To increase respiratory support for speech

  1. Take a deep breath in
  2. Hold the sound “ah” (rhymes with “saw”) on a comfortable pitch for 10 – 20 seconds

Counting – To focus on loudness and rate (slowing down)

  1. Count from 1 to 5, or from 1-10
  2. Keep an even, rhythmic pace
  3. Remember to be loud and clear

Reading – To focus on loudness, rate, and voice quality in complete sentences and phrases

  1. Read aloud from a book, magazine or newspaper in a loud, slow, clear voice

Question and Answer- Practice these in an everyday speaking situation.

  1. Have a practice partner ask you questions
  2. Think about your answer
  3. Answer the question in a slow, loud, clear voice

The good news is these don’t require any specialized equipment so you can exercise anywhere you feel comfortable – in the car or shower are great options!  Speech communication is a part of everyday life for most people, so there are ample opportunities to practice your speech exercises.   Remember, improving speech communication using speech exercises can be effective during all stages of PD, but the sooner the better.  And if you start speaking louder and your family member still can’t hear you, then perhaps they should get their hearing checked.