Parkinson’s disease is an extensively researched condition. It is a progressive neurological condition that affects dopamine-producing cells in a part of the brain called the substantial nigra. The reduction of dopamine results in movement problems including involuntary shaking, or tremor, muscle stiffness, or rigidity, and very slow movements (bradykinesia). A person with PD may experience walking with a shuffling gait – hunched over with limited arm movement. Muscle cramps and spasms are not uncommon; and there is a reduction in facial expressions, which can affect how people interpret meaning. Fine finger movements can also be a challenge. PD is also associated with speech problems, called dysarthria, and swallowing problems, called dysphagia.
In addition, PD raises the risk of developing cognitive impairments and frequently occurs with memory problems. Depression is common, and it is not just as a reaction to the disease. The medicines used to manage the disease can cause visual hallucinations, and people with PD may think they see animals and people, especially deceased relatives and pets. Sometimes these hallucinations can occur even when people are not taking medication.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition, which means that symptoms will not improve as time passes. However, advances in treatment options means that people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease now have a near-normal life expectancy. Medications that create or act like dopamine or inhibit the breakdown of dopamine are often prescribed. Professionals such as a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, speech and language therapist and dietician can provide solutions to increase independence and quality of life for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
As Parkinson’s disease progresses, those with a diagnosis of the disease can experience a reduction in the volume of their voice and the intelligibility of their speech. They can have difficulty articulating some speech sounds and controlling how fast they speak. An AAC system can help people with Parkinson’s disease communicate clearly with others.
- What type of AAC is best?
The best AAC system will depend on a variety of factors including a person’s motor symptoms, cognitive abilities, speech and language skills, attitude and personal preferences. Many speech and language therapists think that amplifiers, alphabet boards and picture charts can help people with Parkinson’s disease as they begin to experience difficulties with their speech and its volume. If their speech deteriorates further, a high-tech device with a voice output function may be helpful.
- Who can give me more information?
If you would like more information about AAC for a person with Parkinson’s disease, consult the speech and language therapist of that person.
If you would like more information on Parkinson’s disease and support for those with a diagnosis and their carers, Parkinson’s UK operate a useful website (www.parkinsons.org.uk) and helpline – 0808 800 0303.