Parkinson Voice Project Grant Focused on Education and Access

April 19, 2023

The Eastern Washington University Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CMSD) this month was awarded a grant valued up to $280,000 from the Parkinson Voice Project, a Texas-based nonprofit that provides speech therapy for Parkinson’s patients.

The five-year grant will provide the training, supplies and research equipment necessary for EWU’s Speech and Language Clinic to expand its use of the project’s SPEAK OUT! therapy, a therapeutic program that helps people with Parkinson’s and related movement disorders retain and regain speech and communication abilities. The therapy also helps reduce life-threatening swallowing complications.

EWU was among 16 universities in 16 states to receive a share of the more than $4.5 million in services and funding from the Parkinson Voice Project. The grants were announced on April 11, World Parkinson’s Day.

At EWU, the grant will help expand access to both in-person programs and Telehealth therapies.  (Check out this story by KREM.) Among its additional benefits, the grant will allow some 25 CMSD graduate students to take the SPEAK OUT! online therapy course each year. The course typically costs $475 – putting it out of reach for many students.

“The really neat thing is that the students get to do the training – and it’s about 10 hours – at no charge,” says Doreen Nicholas, senior lecturer and director of the EWU Speech and Language Clinic.

The grant is just the latest part of a larger, decade-long collaboration between the EWU Speech and Language Clinic and the Parkinson Voice Project. During that time, the EWU clinic and the project have helped close to 100 people in the greater Spokane area who are living with the progressive degenerative nerve disorder learn exercises that strengthen muscles that support speaking and swallowing.

“I think it’s so great that this is something that Eastern can stand out for providing,” says Nicholas.

The World Health Organization, which estimates that some 8.5 million people across the globe live with Parkinson’s disease, has determined disabilities and deaths attributed to Parkinson’s are increasing much faster than for any other neurological disorder.

Nicholas says she first reached out to the Parkinson Voice Project back in 2012 at the request of a family member of one of her patients. Her phone call led to a visit, which segued into faculty training, grant support and a strong partnership. Nicholas, who lost her own mother to Parkinson’s,  says she is proud of the collaboration and her team.

“It has given me a great way to educate our students and send them into the field prepared. Just to think that we are changing lives and we’re improving lives – it’s amazing,” Nicholas says.