A Closer Look at Parkinson’s Disease

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that progressively impacts one’s ability to walk, talk, and swallow due to changes of dopamine levels in the brain. Due to cell death in the basal ganglia region, dopamine levels decrease and cause a myriad of symptoms.

While each individual may experience a varying degree of symptoms, Parkinson’s Disease is most often associated with movement-related difficulties including tremors, increased limb rigidity, difficulty with walking, and balance/coordination difficulties. However, symptoms can also include:

  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Sleep Behavior Disorders
  • Loss of Smell
  • Cognitive Difficulties
  • Dysphagia
  • Voice Disorders

While the cause of Parkinson’s Disease remains unknown, complications from the neurodegenerative disease is the 14th cause of death in the United States (CDC).

Prevalence of Parkinson’s Disease

Most of us are familiar with Parkinson’s Disease because of famous celebrities including Michael J. Fox, Muhammad Ali, and George H.W. Bush.

However, Parkinson’s Disease is more prevalent with “nearly 1 million people in the U.S. living with the neurodegenerative disease, which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease each year” (Parkinson’s Foundation).

The incidence of Parkinson’s Disease increases with age, however onset typically occurs around age 60. Approximately 5-10% of people experience an early onset of the disease and progression of the symptoms largely vary by individual.

How Can Speech Therapy Help?

Most people associate Parkinson’s Disease with a movement disorder involving loss of coordination and balance. However, these difficulties only scratch the surface.

As a caregiver of someone with Parkinson’s Disease or a patient experiencing these symptoms, it is important to know what signs to look for and who to seek help from. 

1. Dysphagia

Many patients with Parkinson’s Disease report difficulty with swallowing, otherwise referred to as dysphagia

Characteristics of dysphagia include:

  • Coughing during or after meals
  • Throat clearing after eating and drinking
  • Feeling of something “stuck” in your throat
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Foods and Liquids staying in the mouth after swallowing (e.g. tongue, cheeks)
  • Wet and gurgly voice after swallowing foods and liquids
  • Drooling while eating
  • Difficulty breathing while eating
  • Weight Loss
  • Extra time and effort required to eat and drink

If you are experiencing these symptoms, please consult a speech language pathologist to determine if further diagnostic testing is needed to rule out risk for aspiration. Aspiration is when foods and liquids enter your airway and lungs which can lead to further complications such as aspiration pneumonia and be life-threatening.https://speaktherapy.net/swallowing/

2. Dysarthria and Voice

Parkinson’s Disease can also impact one’s speech and voice, making it difficult to communicate with others.

Characteristics of dysarthria and voice disorders include:

  • Slurred and mumbled speech
  • Monotone and quiet vocal quality 
  • Limited facial expressions 
  • Slowed movement of articulators (e.g. lips, teeth, tongue, etc.)

While it is important for a speech language pathologist to complete a comprehensive evaluation to determine areas of deficit, there are a number of treatment options including Speak Out and Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) to help improve vocal quality and communication.

3. Cognitive Difficulties

In addition to swallowing and speech difficulties, one may also experience cognitive-communication deficits.

Characteristics of cognitive-communication deficits include:

  • Difficulties with attention
  • Difficulties with memory
  • Difficulties with orientation
  • Difficulties with higher level problem solving and judgement
  • Difficulties with language
  • Decreased processing speed
  • Decreased executive functioning skills

Cognitive-communication deficits can also extend to word-finding difficulties during conversation. This can be very frustrating for individuals who have Parkinson’s Disease as the “tip of the tongue phenomenon” is often reported. 


While Parkinson’s Disease is not fatal, complications could arise impacting’s quality of life and function. If you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms above, schedule a free consultation to see if speech therapy could benefit you. 

At Speak Therapy, we offer both in-home and teletherapy speech services so that treatment is easily accessible!

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