For nearly four years, Eastern Washington University graduate students have been working side-by-side with faculty at the University Hearing and Speech Clinic, learning how to help restore the voices of those with Parkinson’s disease.
Students in the communication sciences and disorders (CMSD) program and faculty work with patients in the LOUD Crowd group, a maintenance therapy group, to help increase the decibel level of the patient’s voice so they can easily be understood. Eastern faculty members received training for the LOUD Crowd through the Parkinson Voice Project, a nonprofit organization that provides therapy programs and training for speech-language pathologists, and now use it as a resource at the University Hearing and Speech Clinic, an educational training facility on the EWU Spokane campus.
“The neatest thing for me as a faculty member at Eastern is being able to involve students and watch them grow as they provide this therapy and interact with patients,” said Doreen Nicholas, MS, MHPA, CCC-SLP and clinic director of the University Hearing and Speech Clinic. “It’s a give and take from both sides because patients know they’re helping to educate students beyond therapy – they’re learning from patients what their day is like, how it’s tough, their needs, what it’s like to be a caregiver and learning the compassion on the side of being a spouse of someone with Parkinson’s. Our students get more than a speech therapy education.”
Patients with Parkinson’s disease begin therapy called SPEAK OUT!, where they receive individual therapy sessions three times a week for four weeks. Once they graduate from the individual session, they begin attending the LOUD Crowd group to help maintain their skills until their disease progresses to the point where they can no longer participate.
“We know with Parkinson’s disease, exercise is very, very important for maintaining the skill level they’re at,” Nicholas said. “What happens is patients with Parkinson’s talk with a really soft voice, and that’s what we work on in therapy – we try to increase the decibel level back to normal so they can be understood.”
The clients are given daily homework to work on their speech so they don’t begin to isolate themselves from social activities because people can’t hear or understand them.
So far, 40 patients have gone through individual therapy sessions, then continue with the LOUD Crowd. In the future, Nicholas hopes to continue to grow the program with the number of patients they see.
In addition to working with patients who have Parkinson’s, graduate students, under the supervision of state-licensed and nationally certified speech-language pathologists and audiologists, also provide other services, such as speech sound production errors, child language delay or stuttering and fluency disorders, at the University Hearing and Speech Clinic. The clinic serves children and adults of all ages.