Parkinson’s Disease is the fastest growing brain disease in the world, and nine out of 10 people with Parkinson’s are at risk of developing a weak voice that can lead to serious speech and swallowing issues. The Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic aims to prevent that from happening with its specialized program that combines education, individual speech therapy and group speech therapy.
“We’re focused on helping individuals with Parkinson’s achieve their best quality of life for as long as possible,” said Jessie Kohn, a lecturer in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders who leads the Speak Out and Loud Crowd programs at the Barkley Clinic. “Management of Parkinson’s not only includes medications, but other modalities such as proper nutrition and regular physical and brain exercise as well. Speak Out and Loud Crowd are therapy approaches we use at the Barkley Clinic that are focused specifically on preserving an individual’s speech and swallowing functions.”
After an initial evaluation at the Barkley Clinic, individuals typically participate in three 40-minute sessions per week for four weeks as part of the Speak Out individual therapy program. Following the 12 one-on-one sessions, participants transition to a group maintenance program, the Loud Crowd, in which they participate in a weekly “voice exercise for life” format.
“It is so rewarding to see the positive changes that result when our clients advance through their Speak Out journeys,” Kohn said. “Their voices become physically stronger, which in turn gives them greater confidence to let their voices be heard. I really like the structure of the Speak Out and Loud Crowd programs because they incorporate the components that we know are necessary for neuroplasticity.”
The Speak Out and Loud Crowd programs are evidence-based treatment approaches for dyarthria due to Parkinson’s Disease and were developed by the Parkinson Voice Project. The Barkley Clinic began offering these services in 2019 after receiving a grant from the Parkinson Voice Project. Since then, the Barkley Clinic has received additional grants that were used to train graduate student clinicians, while also purchasing voice amplifiers, books about Parkinson’s and sound level meters for people in the community to check out on loan from the clinic.
For the fall semester, Speak Out sessions are offered in-person, via Zoom or a hybrid of both at 11:15 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Loud Crowd meets at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays via Zoom. Evaluations can be scheduled in-person from 2-3 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Kohn is also collaborating with Ann Marie Pollard, assistant professor of practice, and two graduate students from the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film to begin offering a Sing Out group Sept. 16. The group, which is free and open to anyone with Parkinson’s, will meet from 2-3 p.m. on Thursdays at the Westbrook Music Building on City Campus through the end of the fall semester. Kohn and Pollard created the Sing Out group to offer individuals with Parkinson’s another aerobic activity where participants will receive some training in using the voice properly for singing while enjoying singing together in a small choir. Anyone interested in joining Sing Out can contact Kohn at email@example.com.
Individuals interested in scheduling an evaluation for the Speak Out and Loud Crowd programs may call the Barkley Clinic at 402-472-2071. The Speak Out program costs $30 per session, while the Loud Crowd is offered free of charge for all individuals who complete the individual sessions. The Barkley Clinic bills both Medicare and Medicaid, and also accepts self-payment for services. More information is available here.