Losing Your Voice to Parkinson’s Disease

Dad’s voice is a whisper when I pick up the phone on one particularly chilly afternoon. "Hi, Mary Beth," the person on the other end is like a gust of wind, cascading across the water. Dad has always been a little bit like that - gentle in his delivery of information, and kind. But the softness in his voice has been deepening since he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013. And he knows it.

Noticing changes in symptoms

He’s calling to tell me about different symptoms that he’s been noticing lately. He gets fatigued a little bit faster than usual, often feeling deflated or unmotivated to do anything.

He tends to be sensitive, finding it easy to get teary-eyed in the middle of a movie, or after he has had a particularly hard conversation. Then he tells me: "The other thing is I’m losing my voice." Like the little mermaid, Dad is losing his ability to sing. Parkinson’s is his Ursula, robbing him of his ability to communicate.

But he’s thinking about ways to fight back against the loss. Dad tells me: "I know people do speech therapy," but he adds in a solemn tone that you have to practice the techniques on a daily basis or you’re unlikely to see results. And considering that he’s already battling fatigue, it makes sense that adding another responsibility to his plate seems like a burden. Isn’t he doing enough to ward off the disease?

Speech problems in Parkinson's

The reality is that Dad isn’t alone in his speech struggles. He notices the same phenomenon in his friends and fellow Parkinson’s classmates. It’s very common for those with Parkinson’s to have to repeat themselves. And, while Dad obliges when asked to speak up, this struggle seems to impact the frequency with which he speaks. And I worry that the loss of vocal power will contribute to a deeper level of isolation for my dad.

"It’s hard to go through a drive-through," Dad adds.

I’ve definitely had to ask Dad to repeat himself before, and I feel bad for doing it. But it isn’t an uncommon struggle. In my experience, the volume of his voice doesn’t seem to be the problem. It’s the pronunciation of words. They seem to get a little bit more jumbled or softer than they used to.

Not ready for speech therapy

Dad and I both know that there are a number of different programs and treatment options that can help those with Parkinson’s to manage changes to swallowing and speech. He could go to a speech therapist. The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment program is designed specifically for those with Parkinson’s and it is hosted by certified specialists. I’ve also heard that singing might make a difference when it comes to managing this particular issue.

He doesn’t seem quite ready to engage in these types of programs just yet. But I take comfort in knowing that we do have resources at our disposal if we need them. Programs like these are a beacon in the night, reminding us that we just have to move forward to find our way home.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ParkinsonsDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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