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A bearded man struggles to maintain his speech, with talk bubbles of varying frequencies floating around him.

“What Did You Say?”: My Speech Issues with Parkinson’s

It started with “what did you say?” from my lovely bride. Then she is gesturing for me to speak louder while in a conversation with someone. Why the question and the gesturing? I am speaking normally. But then I notice people leaning forward to hear what I am saying. Is everybody hard of hearing? Slowly I start to recognize, “it must be me.” My speech had gone south and I didn’t recognize it. Self-awareness is a funny thing. I have Parkinson’s friends who speak very softly. I am often asking them to repeat as I am leaning forward to hear. So, I know how it feels. Along with the now realized soft speaking voice, I notice a raspy tone and a lot of clearing of the throat.

Yep, another of those nasty symptoms has raised its ugly head. I finally recognized that my voice has softened and that sometimes I had difficulty swallowing. I realized that I have a new issue emanating from the nasty behemoth. Maybe it wasn’t new, but the realization was new.

Dose of reality

As fate would have it, at this time, I was contacted by a speech pathologist who was conducting a study on swallowing and speech for people with Parkinson’s. The end goal is to develop an app that will lead to early detection of the symptoms and earlier and better treatment.

The timing was perfect. I was right in the wheelhouse of the people with Parkinson’s they wanted to test. The test consisted of measurement of tongue strength, making different sounds, swallowing one piece of dry pretzel, and drinking water. And a lot of questions.

When finished, the leader of the team (a highly educated and experienced speech pathologist) said to me, “you need to see a speech therapist as soon as possible. You need some tools to deal with your speech, as it is only going to get worse.” OK, you have my attention.

She gave me a couple of exercises to do, suggested I enroll in one of the speech treatment programs and start training with a device to strengthen the affected muscles.

Research and plan

We all have a team to deal with Parkinson’s, and it seems I am about to add to mine. A speech therapist is now on my calendar, joining the movement disorder neurologist, physical therapist, Rock Steady Boxing trainer, support group. This group is not exactly who I planned to spend my “golden years” with, but they are also the reason that I have been able to maintain and slow the progression for the last six years. So, I welcome the newest member.

I am about to start down another path of the Parkinson’s treatment regimen. I have a lot to learn, and it begins with additions to my Parkinson’s vocabulary. Hypophonia (soft speech) pops up first followed by dysarthria (difficulty speaking) and dysphasia (difficulty swallowing). As I start my research, I wonder, is the dreaded open mouth/slack jaw related to the speech and swallowing problem? Are the drooling, dental, and sleep apnea issues all part of the same problem?

Questions and research come first. Why do I feel like I have done this before with other symptoms? But it’s the only way.

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


  • Frank Church moderator
    3 weeks ago

    Dear all,
    I’m very late in joining this line of thoughtful responses about the voice softening with Parkinson’s. As a medical educator, I give many lectures each year, and loss of voice volume has been an everpresent problem.

    There seems multiple reasons, our voices get quieter, our faces get less expressive and the combined effect is lessening of volume and intonation of our voice. As recommended in this most thoughtful post, exercises and visits with speech pathologists can really help.

    Following my PD diagnosis, I did the LSVT-Loud Program. There are now several similar programs to LSVT-Loud available to help with voice. It’s a rigorous program that worked, 7 years post PD-diagnosis, I’m still lecturing to both medical students and undergraduates. I try to do some voice exercises as I drive to work each morning. I would encourage you to seek a qualified speech therapist to help get you speaking louder. Frank from the PD team.

  • gilmore4242
    4 months ago

    Run don’t walk to your nearest SPEAKOUT provider… almost everyone with PD experiences speech and swallowing problems… the great majority die secondary to pulmonary aspiration.. the good news is that the voice and swallowing can be saved and maintained with simple daily exercises…no need to lose your voice and swallowing when this therapy is available.
    Gay Gilmore

  • Jessica.Hall moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi @gilmore4242, we appreciate you being here with us and sharing. Wishing you well. Kindly, Jessica- Team

  • MarySLP
    4 months ago

    Great to see an article addressing speech and voice changes associated with Parkinson’s. Like many of the incidious symptoms associated with PD, changes in speech and swallowing are often present even before motor symptoms, but, their gradual nature may make them easy to dismiss, until, your spouse and others are nagging you about speaking too softly. Wouldn’t it be great if the standard of care was to refer EVERY patient for a comperhensive speech and swallowing assessment at the time of diagnosis? I work with a neurologist who refers all of his new patients for team assessments, this way, baseline data can be obtained and exercises can be taught early, with a goal of improving and delaying progression of symptoms. LSVT LOUD, SPEAK OUT!, and SpeechVive, a device intervention are among available options that people should be aware of. After therapy group classes like Voice Aerobics or the LOUD Crowd can provide a fun way to stay the course.

  • teddi31
    4 months ago

    Hi. Think this article is really interesting. We live in Marlborough Wiltshire UK. Wondered if you know how I could find one of these brilliant speech therapists? Thanks.

  • Jaycee53
    4 months ago

    I live near Stratford upon Avon and attend the SLVT there

  • Jaycee53
    4 months ago

    I am currently attending a ‘Lee Silverman’ speech therapy course.’It is proving very beneficial,it’s tough because of the voice training.
    When I hear a recording of myself ‘shouting ‘ it is amazing that I am not shouting loudly but in a ‘normal ‘voice.Jaycee53

  • Jessica.Hall moderator
    4 months ago

    So glad the therapy course has been helpful for you, @jaycee53! I hope it continues to be! Thank you for sharing with us. Wishing you well. Kindly, Jessica- Team

  • Jaycee53
    4 months ago

    Thanks for your thoughts Jessica.
    I would highly recommend the course however I am on day 4 of 13,

  • JeffD
    4 months ago

    I’m also experiencing softening of the voice. It is more hoarse much of the time. I clear my throat pretty often when I am lecturing to my class of 75. Wonder if that is annoying to them? I don’t use a mic…yet. But I’ve pulled the mic out and know there will be a day when I start using it. In the meantime “can you guys hear me back there?” is oft repeated! lol. Thanks for sharing, Tom!

  • Dan Glass moderator
    5 months ago

    I know my voice is softening, too, but I still feel like I’m “booming out” for the back of the room. Gotta love PD! Good article.

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