Tips to Over come Communication Impairment in PD: By Dr. De Leon


As we near the WPC 2016 which will be held in Portland, Oregon this of the topics of great interest being presented is one of communication impairment.

First, we must look at what is meant by communication. The word  “communication”  implies the usage of  a deeper and complex network of interconnected neurons in the brain actively working to conceive, send, receive, and interpret  auditory, written as well as verbal & non- verbal messages. A problem or disruption at any point in this chain and we have ineffective or impaired communication. And as we all know ineffective or poorly executed communication can lead to disastrous outcomes.

For instance, there is a well known story which highlights this problem, a message given by a British Army Commander which stated: “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance,” was lost in translation.

However,  reinforcements NEVER arrived because message received at command center heard instead:

“Send three and four-pence, we’re going to a dance”

A very humorous statement in the middle of a war but also quite out of place!

Not all communication failure can be as disastrous as this; yet it can be extremely frustrating for both the messenger and receiver. Lately, since one of my biggest problems with PD is actual voice related, I too am finding out how difficult it is to get things accomplish when those around you don’t get a clear message from you.

Why is this important?

  • Communication problems can be equally frustrating for all involved.
  • Person with problem of hypophonia  (low voice) or aphonia may become angry, irritable and isolated worsening an already existing depression or cause depression to ensue.
  • Some communication problems, such as having a soft voice, may be temporary and reversible with higher doses of levodopa. While other  speech related problems may be more permanent or caused by things like DBS implant or DBS positioning and activation of leads; in many cases leads may need to be readjusted because active electrical impulse is getting into areas of speech and affecting swallowing as well.
  • Sometimes medications, infections, dehydration, or depression itself  can cause difficulty in communicating with others due to the creation of confusion in the patient or person having these problems. the confusion then leads to an inability to state concretely or clearly their needs, concerns, or wishes. It is important to always review all medication with new onset of speech impediment especially when there appears to be a globally impaired person- not able to understand, read, write, or communicate verbally- we must exclude structural problems such as strokes and tumors in these individuals.
  • Of course the presence of dementia can also make communicating extremely difficult. This is a problem as 40-50% of PD patients are said to develop PD dementia after 15 years of disease. Thus, we have to take great measures to decrease risk factors especially as women are at higher risk for stroke but men are at higher risk for dementia and behavioral problems with PD. I recommend early screening as well as routine screening to avoid rapid cognitive decline when possible.

Whatever the cause poor communication can lead to depression and further isolation which only leads to a vicious cycle of increased deficits in communication and further withdrawal.

Identifying and solving communication problems:

As with most other problems in PD,  voice issues will develop slowly and subtly overtime. For instance, I have noticed that my husband and daughter are frequently surprised when I mention we are doing some activity on a given day which I had already mentioned to them before. After several episodes of me thinking I clearly stated something, I realized that they were no longer hearing me because I am developing softer voice. When I am completely aphonic, the communication is not as bad in my family because they pay more attention to my needs and watch for other non-verbal cues. But is the daily goings on that can be frustrating. Of course, as we age we tend to develop communication changes due to aging such as having poor sight or hearing which in turn can limit us as well significantly and in fact also cause much irritability if not able to hear or understand those around you.

Most people will seek medical help when things become bothersome enough or begin interfering with activities of daily living such as speaking in loud crowds or in a group, speaking on the phone, which I am beginning to have some degree of difficulty. Also everyone’s degree of impairment in their social life may be different even if the deficit is the same. this depends on each persons social abilities and needs.  If a person is a lecturer like myself than having any degree of hypophonia is significant  compared to one that lives alone and rarely socializes. Same goes for understanding written word. This can be a major problem if the person having these issues is the one in charge of important document handling.

Communication is a TWO-WAY street:

 Both the speaker and listener play an integral role as such both can and may need to alter their behavior in order to maintain a successful form of communication. one may have to try to speak louder and the other to make more eye contact and listen more intently. conversation requires all parties involvement- so tell your friends you cant speak as loud or cant hear them in loud places adjust your gathering environments rather than stop trying all together.

Make sure you get hearing tested- getting this done tomorrow.

Do speech therapy – which may include the LSVT- LOUD program to improve quality of speech and volume of voice. I think I will be enrolling soon. the speech therapist can also help with other types of communication skills like doing cognitive training or offer assistive devices to help you be heard and understood. there are a great number of assistive devices to aid in communication some are quite simple and inexpensive while others are more complex and expensive. May even consider choir therapy as well – for fun and perhaps may turn out to have some value in improving voice quality and clarity of speech.

The other great treatment available is collagen injections into the vocal cords which helps with voice volume.

 Don’t delay help and suffer frustration and isolation- talk to your physician asap .


6 thoughts on “Tips to Over come Communication Impairment in PD: By Dr. De Leon

  1. Excellent post, Dr. Maria – some fabulous tips for these very real and often frustrating vocal problems. My PwP hubby Pete’s voice is like the ‘godfather’, so I have to remind him to BREATHE. He can’t hear me well either – nothing to do with PD…all to do with being together for 40 years! 🙂

    1. yes.. have to breath and as I find out today after hearing test that although I have some problems they are not serious which means everyone in my family needs to start articulating more lol; seriously thank you and also wanted to remind everyone that collagen injections into vocal cords are also another viable solution to improve voice volume xox

  2. Excellent post and well-timed. Our group is having a speech therapist come in to speak this fall about this very issue. And a neurologist who is a movement disorder specialist told us there was value in participating in the LOUD program every year.

  3. Outstanding post, Dr. D! I have seen LSVT LOUD help people at all stages in the Parkinson’s journey, and it is one of my favorite therapies to provide! Thank you so much for sharing your unique perspective as a movement disorders specialist who also happens to be a person with Parkinson’s disease.

    1. thank you ..I firmly believe in the recurrent benefits of doing ST at every stage of PD- especially the loud program which although a bit of time consuming initially it is of great benefit!! Happy Memorial Day Weekend to all xoxo

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