July 28, 2010
Parkinson’s patients learn to hear their voice
New Cortland Regional Medical Center program treats vocal chords damaged by the disease
Joseph Calabro was being treated for Parkinson’s disease two years ago when he began to struggle with speaking.
The disease was affecting the Cortland resident’s vocal cords and his perception of how much effort he needed if he was to be heard when he spoke.
Last week, he finished working with speech pathologist Jill Toftegaard at Cortland Regional Medical Center, using a method called the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment or LSVT.
The treatment involves having the patient practice saying an extended vowel sound loudly and repeatedly for one hour at a time, once a day for four days a week over a four-week span, to rebuild his or her vocal cords and retrain them on how loudly to project.
Calabro, 84, said his ability to speak has been restored and he feels far better, now that he can communicate with his friends and family.
Toftegaard said she went through two days of training in LSVT a few months ago in Pittsburgh and is now one of only a handful of speech clinicians in the area who are certified. She said she knows of one in Ithaca and two at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse.
“The research to support this method’s effectiveness has grown in recent years,” Toftegaard said, explaining why she and hospital administrators decided to add the treatment method to what they offer.
About 80 to 90 percent of the 6 million Parkinson’s patients worldwide have their speech affected, but only 4 or 5 percent of those get treated for speech problems, Toftegaard said.
The method, named after a Parkinson’s patient who lived in Arizona, grew from research conducted by Lorraine Olson Ramig and her student, Carolyn Mead, through the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.
Ramig said, on a website about LSVT, that Silverman’s family helped to fund her research into why the elderly and people with neurological diseases struggled to speak. She discovered the answer was not just physiological but connected to how much they thought they were projecting their voices.
LSVT began to be used in 1987.
The patient practices saying “Ah” loudly and for a few seconds repeatedly for an hour. He or she also practices saying certain sentences, such as “What is the weather like today?” or “Thank you for coming to see me.”
The patient practices twice a day. Calabro practiced mostly in a dining room down the hall from his room, when it was empty.
Calabro managed the shoe department for a local Chappell’s men’s clothing store and then the Bon-Ton after it acquired Chappell’s, retiring in 1997. He also sang in locally staged musicals and at weddings.
“So he had a booming voice,” Toftegaard said. “He has done some singing and dancing for us, here in the hospital. But when he came to us, his voice was very soft and whispery.”
“I’ve had Parkinson’s for about four or five years,” Calabro said, “and about two years ago I had problems talking. My voice would just stop. I thought I had throat cancer but the doctor said no, my throat was fine.”
Calabro finished the treatment last week and went home from CRMC on Saturday. He said he saw improvement in his first week of the treatment. Now his voice is consistent.
“I felt like a whole new person,” he said. “I could talk again normally.”
Toftegaard said that if Calabro continues to practice the voice exercises, he should be able to speak loudly for up to two more years.
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