Swallowing for Parkinson’s

Goshen Speech and Hearing Center specializes in the swallowing and speech treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Our goal is to provide or recommend treatment so that patients may resume normal activities and have a more fulfilling quality of life. When addressing swallowing disorders, our main concern is safety, hydration, and nutrition.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder. It occurs when a person’s brain slowly stops producing dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter. Dopamine depletion makes it difficult to regulate the body and coordinate movement. People with Parkinson’s disease may experience tremor, stiffness, impaired balance, and postural instability. As symptoms progress, people may experience problems walking, speaking, chewing, and swallowing.

There is currently not a cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there are treatments. Medical treatment typically involves a variety of medications that can assist with dopamine production in the brain. Speech treatment focuses on strategies for articulation and loudness to improve intelligibility. The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment Program (LSVT) is a treatment protocol designed to improve vocal loudness and articulatory precision in patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions.

People with Parkinson’s disease can also develop swallowing disorders, also called dysphagia. Dysphagia can lead to life-threatening conditions, such as aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when food or liquid enters the airway and lungs instead of the esophagus and stomach. Symptoms of aspiration or aspiration pneumonia include:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up phlegm
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Breath odor
  • Excessive sweating
  • Problems swallowing

Aspiration pneumonia usually requires the patient to be hospitalized, but treatment depends on the severity of the pneumonia and the other medical conditions of the patient. Liquid and food diets may need to be altered in order to assist with safe swallowing. If dietary thickness and texture changes do not alleviate aspiration, alternative feeding methods may be implemented in order to reduce the risk of aspiration.

Treatment for dysphagia for patients with Parkinson’s disease may include strengthening exercises to improve muscle movement during swallowing, utilizing head or body positions to aid safe and effective swallowing, and prescribing special liquid and food diets (varying in texture, thickness, and size) for safe and efficient swallowing.