Providing free speech therapy for New York’s Parkinson’s community

Interviews

Author: Simge Eva DoganPublished: 13 June 2019

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We spoke to student clinician Beata Royzman about working with the Parkinson’s community in the Bronx, New York City, US, why ‘speaking with intent’ can help improve vocal symptoms – and what inspired her to “change people’s lives”


How did you first start working with individuals with Parkinson’s?

I was fascinated with the voice from a very young age. I was a singer, I studied opera and have a degree in vocal performance. I always thought there was something special about being able to change people’s lives through my voice. So, I did some research and came across speech-language pathology. I fell in love with the field and now I’m a speech-language pathology graduate student at Lehman College in New York City, US.

Last autumn, The Speech and Hearing Centre at Lehman College established a Parkinson’s clinic and student clinicians and clinical educators were trained in the Parkinson Voice Project – a two-part therapy approach.

I was one of the students chosen to take part in the training and provided treatment using this therapy approach. It’s been an incredible learning process.

Can you tell me more about the Parkinson’s clinic, who does it help?

The Speech and Hearing Centre at Lehman College is located in the Bronx, New York City and it provides diagnostic and therapeutic services for all individuals who have difficulties with speech, language, hearing and feeding. Our clients range from pre-school children to adults.

We offer services to anyone in the New York City metropolitan area and we have a very diverse population. When the Parkinson’s clinic opened last year, we went out and left flyers in community centres, temples, churches and mosques – and we had a really wonderful response.

We have clients that come in for individual therapy and also for support groups where they’re able to share their experiences with others.

How does speech therapy help people with Parkinson’s?

Approximately 90 percent of people living with Parkinson’s will develop some type of speech and swallowing difficulty. So, with the use of the Parkinson Voice Project, we can help people strengthen the muscles used for talking and swallowing. We also work on the use of their voice, helping them to speak with intent.

The first part of the therapy approach is called ‘SPEAK OUT!’. It consists of 12 one-to-one sessions with a speech-language pathologist where clients complete a series of vocal, reading and cognitive exercises. The second part is ‘The LOUD Crowd’ which helps clients maintain the progress they make. Patients are asked to complete the exercises twice a day for 25 days, and then once a day for the rest of their lives.

What does ‘speaking with intent’ mean?

‘Speaking with intent’ means learning how to be speak deliberately and be focused on every single sound you produce. As a result, it helps clients increase their vocal loudness, their speech intelligibility and it helps other people understand them.

How big an impact has the course had on the participants?

I’ve seen some amazing outcomes. In the beginning, people might not have had much confidence but once we complete the therapy, we see such a change.

Each person is so unique and has a different story and experience. We incorporate what’s important to them in each session and that helps us build relationships.

I had one client living with Parkinson’s who, like me, loved music – so we built a relationship based on that. We started and ended every single session singing a song using intent. We then measured her speech sound so we could track her progress. In the space of a few months, she was more than doubling her sound level decibels.

You don’t charge for your service, why did you decide to do that?

We’re in a low-income community and we’re trying to spread information and have people know that there is support out there. I know that for some health insurance isn’t possible, and they can’t afford therapy services. That’s why we offer ours for free – so we can support every single individual in the community.

What do you hope the clinic will achieve and bring to the Parkinson’s community?

I really hope we can grow our outreach and have as many people as possible come into our clinic to receive support. It’s an incredible opportunity for individuals with Parkinson’s to receive services that are of no cost to help them regain and maintain their vocal abilities – and to have a support group that they can go to and rely on each other. The Parkinson Voice Project has had very successful outcomes and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who’s having speech difficulties and living with Parkinson’s.


Read more:

6 tips for improving speech in Parkinson’s

Speaking out: Dad with Parkinson’s calls for better access to speech therapy

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