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Brain Health and Aging, In Collaboration with AARP
Thursday, July 18th 3:30pm-4:30pm via Zoom. Click HERE to Register!
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The Parkinson’s Communication Club and The Kensington: Vocalization and Hearing

Do you or a loved one have Parkinson’s disease and struggle with communication? The Kensington Reston community hosts a weekly Communication Club for those with Parkinson’s and their care partners.

Even in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, speech changes and loss of facial expression can occur. These symptoms worsen over time, making communication challenging and frustrating.

The Communication Club helps attendees exercise the voice to improve volume. Learn more about the club, how Parkinson’s affects communication, and how The Kensington Reston community supports our residents and their families. 

What is the Parkinson’s Foundation Communication Club?

It is common for those with Parkinson’s disease to experience soft or slurred speech. As a result, they can have difficulty being heard or understood in social settings. By stimulating the voice box muscles and speech mechanisms, it’s possible to improve vocal loudness.

The Parkinson’s Foundation Communication Club, which meets virtually every Tuesday, is not a type of therapy — it’s an exercise group. Licensed Speech-Language Therapist Susan Wranik is a certified clinician in what’s known as LSVT LOUD therapy. Susan leads the club through systematic exercises designed to improve volume and help attendees speak loudly and clearly.

Susan also establishes a wellness and prevention program for those with Parkinson’s and their caregivers. It’s designed in a group setting as a team effort to be loud — “one for all and all for one” — and also serves as a space to feel support from those who understand the unique role of a Parkinson’s caregiver.

How does Parkinson’s disease affect communication?

Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that can cause shaking, muscle stiffness, and trouble with coordination and balance. While there’s no cure, many patients can maintain a good quality of life with medications, therapy, or surgery.

Parkinson’s occurs when nerve cells that produce dopamine in a certain area of the brain die or become impaired. The dopamine loss results in the symptoms related to movement. 

So why does this also result in speech and communication problems? The disease affects muscles and nerves that affect speech, including your:

  • Throat
  • Voicebox
  • Roof of the mouth, tongue, and lips
  • Facial muscles
  • Respiratory muscles
  • Brain areas that control hearing and speech processing

Changes in voice quality can be the first sign of speech problems in those with Parkinson’s. They may experience a softened voice with reduced volume, an unchanging pitch, a hoarse or strained voice, breathiness, tremor, or slurring.

A speech-language therapist with specialized training, such as Susan, can help those with Parkinson’s amplify their voices with exercise and assistive devices and techniques, as well as provide ways to conserve energy with nonverbal communication skills.

The loss of dopamine occurring in seniors with Parkinson’s also can affect hearing, concentration, and following conversations. While those with Parkinson’s can find several ways to improve their communication, there are also many tips and techniques caregivers, friends, and family members can use to assist their loved ones.

Tips and techniques for communicating with seniors with Parkinson’s

To help our loved ones with Parkinson’s communicate, we can adjust how we interact with them to be more direct, clear, and easy to understand.

  • Speak slowly, clearly, and at an appropriate volume
  • Ask “yes” or “no” questions and avoid complicated sentences
  • Speak face-to-face, looking at the person as they speak or respond
  • If you misunderstand part of what they say, repeat what you understand for confirmation
  • Ask them to repeat what you didn’t understand, speak more slowly, or spell out words you aren’t catching
  • Be patient and let them speak without interrupting or finishing sentences
  • Turn off distractions and choose to have conversations in simple, quiet spaces
  • Gesture and use actions and motions to aid communication

It can take time to learn how to effectively communicate after your loved one is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, so be patient with yourself and with your loved one as you both navigate this new territory.

How the right assisted living community supports those with Parkinson’s disease

The Kensington Reston offers enhanced assisted living that goes above and beyond a typical community. Our Promise is to love and care for your family as we do our own. Expert and loving staff can provide any level of care depending on individual needs — creating a real, loving home for your loved one to age in place.

Whether your loved one has mild symptoms or is in the late stages of Parkinson’s, we can provide the appropriate level of care and comfort. We have on-site speech, physical, and occupational therapy for residents in order to maximize independence and boost quality of life.

In addition to support for Parkinson’s, we have specialized memory care neighborhoods created with safety, comfort, and life enrichment opportunities specifically for these residents. The Kensington Reston community also is proud to offer all-day dining with delicious, high-quality ingredients — and all the wonderful smells that go along with the dishes. Reach out to us today to learn more about our caring community, and all the ways we can support you and your loved ones.

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