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Therapist helping Parkinson’s patients find their voices

DeeRae Nelson, speech therapist with Ecumen in Detroit Lakes, is certified in LOUD, a program that helps those with Parkinson’s Disease find their voice again and have more confidence in their speaking abilities. Pippi Mayfield/DL NEWSPAPERS

When a person develops Parkinson’s Disease, they may notice the slowing down of their body movement. What they may not see as quickly is the shrinking of their voice.

Speech Therapist DeeRae Nelson at Ecumen in Detroit Lakes is helping people find their voice again.

“They are high intensity vocal exercises,” she said of how she works with her clients.

Though Nelson has been a speech therapist at Emmanuel for a while, she was just certified in the LOUD program at the end of September.

The LSVT LOUD program stands for Lee Silverman Voice Treatment. It was followed by LSVT BIG, which is the movement aspect of the program.

Steps to speaking louder

Nelson works with her patients for 16 sessions — four weeks, four times a week. They work on projecting their voice in steps, starting with the simple “ahhh” sound.

They begin with holding it as long as they can and making it more audible than they are used to. Nelson uses a decibel reader to show how loud they should sound.

They work on the volume of the sound and then advance to high and low “glides” of the sound, moving up and down the scale of octaves.

From “ahh,” they advance to words, phrases, sentences and eventually conversations. She also records each of her patients to show them their progression.

It was night and day difference for one man who just graduated from the course. The first session, he was barely audible with some mumbled words in the conversation. More than halfway into his four-week course, he was very understandable, loud and crisp.

“He was taking on more of a role as a communicator,” Nelson said of the feedback from that particular client. “He was comfortable again.”

He even thought he would give singing in his church choir a shot now, she added.

Though LOUD found success with Parkinson’s patients first, Nelson said it is proving useful for other diseases as well. Those suffering from strokes, cerebral palsy or just normal aging use the LOUD program. And in pediatrics, kids with Down Syndrome are using the program as well, she said.

“It goes past their voice to articulation and even swallowing,” Nelson said of the benefits of the LOUD program.

Needing the program

While Nelsons’ clients are working with her those four weeks, they have homework, practicing their sounds and projecting their voices. Once the four-week course is over and they graduate, they are expected to maintain the homework exercises.

She said the LOUD program should work for at least one to two years, depending on the speed of deterioration from Parkinson’s. They can always go through the program again once their voice is starting to fade again.

Nelson said that once someone is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, they should go through the LOUD program, or the BIG program, too, right away rather than waiting until someone says they are getting quiet. She said a patient’s doctor will refer them to her.

“It’s about calibrating themselves.”

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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