Strengthening the Voice: Exercises for People with Parkinson’s Disease

A group of older adults doing breathing exercises to improve their speech.

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Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement, balance, and speech. As the disease progresses, it can also lead to a weakened voice or difficulty speaking. This can greatly impact communication and daily activities, making it challenging for individuals with Parkinson’s to express themselves.

However, some exercises and techniques can help strengthen the voice and improve speech for people with Parkinson’s disease. Some of the most beneficial groups of exercises and techniques include:

  • Pitch variation exercises
  • Vocal warm-ups
  • Breath support exercises
  • Articulation exercises

Each of these groups contains multiple useful exercises. While they have benefits when used individually, when combined, the results can be promising. Read on to discover more about each of these helpful exercises, along with some additional tips to improve communication.

Pitch Variation Exercises

One of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is a monotone or soft voice, making it difficult to convey emotion or emphasis while speaking. To assist with this, pitch variation exercises can help improve vocal range and expression. These can include:

  • Pitch slides: Start by humming a comfortable pitch and gradually slide up or down the scale. This can be done with different vowel sounds as well.
  • Siren exercise: Similar to pitch slides, this exercise involves making a siren-like sound from low to high and back again.

Vocal Warm-Ups

Just like any other muscle in the body, vocal cords need to be warmed up before use. This can help increase blood flow and flexibility of your vocal cords, leading to a stronger and more controlled voice.

  • Humming: Humming is a gentle way to warm up the voice and prepare for speaking.
  • Lip trills: Place your lips together and blow air through them, making a buzzing sound. This helps relax the vocal cords and improve breath control.
  • Gentle coughing: Coughing can help clear the throat and stimulate the vocal cords. However, be sure to do this gently to avoid strain.

Breath Support Exercises

A close-up of a spirometer being used by an older adult woman for breathing exercises

Parkinson’s disease can also cause difficulty with breath support, leading to weak or strained speech. These exercises can help strengthen the muscles involved in breathing and improve voice projection.

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Place one hand on your stomach and take a deep breath, feeling your stomach expand. Hold for a few seconds before exhaling slowly. Repeat several times.
  • Counting aloud: Practice counting from 1 to 10 while taking a deep breath in between each number. As you progress, try counting to higher numbers or adding longer pauses between each number.
  • Straw breathing: Take a deep breath through a straw, filling your lungs until they feel full. Slowly exhale through the straw, feeling your stomach muscles engage. This exercise can also be done while creating pitch slides or siren sounds for added vocal practice. This is one of the more challenging exercises, so go at a pace that feels comfortable.

Articulation Exercises

Parkinson’s disease can also affect articulation, making it difficult to form sounds clearly and distinctly. These exercises can help improve muscle control and clarity of speech.

  • Tongue twisters: Tongue twisters are a fun way to practice articulation skills. Start with simple ones and gradually increase difficulty as you improve.
  • Singing vowels: Singing different vowel sounds with exaggerated mouth movements can help strengthen the tongue and lips. Start with a slow tempo and gradually increase speed.

Additional Tips

In addition to these exercises, there are several other strategies that can help improve speech and communication for individuals with Parkinson’s disease. These include:

  • Speaking slowly: Take your time when speaking and focus on enunciating each word clearly. This can help improve both articulation and clarity of speech.
  • Using visual aids: If you have trouble finding the right words, using pictures or written cues can help you get your point across.
  • Joining a support group: Connecting with others who have Parkinson’s disease can provide emotional support and practical tips for managing communication difficulties.
  • Working with a speech therapist: A speech therapist can provide personalized exercises and techniques to improve speech and communication skills. They can also help address any swallowing difficulties that may be present and monitor your improvement, adapting your plan to your progress.

Empowering Parkinson’s Care at Juniper

Living with Parkinson’s disease can bring challenges, but there are many ways to manage and improve muscle control and clarity of speech. By incorporating exercises, strategies, and the support of a therapist or group, individuals can continue to communicate effectively and confidently.

At Juniper Village at Paramus, we offer a variety of resources and support for our residents with  Parkinson’s disease. We aim to provide a comfortable and empowering environment for individuals to maintain independence and enhance their well-being. 

If you or a loved one would like to learn more about our community, please contact us for more information.

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