Why do Parkinson's Patients Have Speech Problems?

Why do Parkinson's Patients Have Speech Problems?

Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative disorder of the nervous system that affects the body’s ability to move effectively. In most cases, the symptoms of this disease emerge gradually, often beginning with a minor tremor in one hand. While tremors are relatively common with this disease, stiffness or slowing of movement is also commonly seen. In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, there may be very limited or no facial expression from the patient. They may also no longer swing their arms as they walk, and their gait may be very stiff and/or slow. The patient’s speech will likely also become slurred or soft. This disease is degenerative, meaning the symptoms will worsen as time progresses. 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease. However, there are many medications, therapies, and other resources that can help to improve and slow the onset of symptoms, allowing the patient to retain as much independence and general function as possible. Speech therapy is one of the most valuable resources for Parkinson’s patients who are struggling with their speech patterns. If you want to learn more about how speech therapy can help you or a loved one with Parkinson’s disease, schedule your free introductory call today! 

How Does Parkinson’s Disease Affect Speech?

Parkinson’s Disease affects the dopamine levels in the brain, which in turn affects the communication between the brain cells. Over time, this can result in deficits in the movement and cognition of the patient. In most cases of this disease, speech, language, cognition and swallowing are all affected significantly as a result of the lowered levels of dopamine in the brain. 

Speech can be affected by Parkinson’s Disease in a multitude of ways. It is common for people affected by this disease to speak very quietly, and often in a monotone or one tone of voice. This means that they may not be able to appropriately reflect emotion when they speak. For many people, their speech may sound hoarse or breathy, their words may be slurred, and they may mumble or trail off while speaking. In most cases, those with this disease will speak slowly however some may speak rapidly with the presence of a stammer or stutter. 

Parkinson’s Disease affects motor function resulting in decreased facial expressions, general slowness of movement, posture that is hunched or stooped, and mechanical problems related to speech and swallowing. These symptoms can also result in the wrong non-verbal cues being expressed, which impacts the ability of the patient to show emotion. 

There are also some non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s that can affect speech. Difficulties related to memory and cognitive (thinking) abilities can lead to challenges with appropriate word use, word retrieval, and comprehension of conversations and speech from others. These symptoms can also result in a slower pace of speech making communication with family, loved ones, caregivers, and medical providers very difficult. The symptoms affecting speech can also have significant effects on the patient’s ability to socialize, retain a job and live their life independently. 

Thanks to research and advances in medical science, there are many strategies and therapeutic activities that have been proven to be highly successful in the recovery process. Learn more about how time with a speech therapist can benefit someone affected with Parkinson’s Disease by scheduling your free introductory call today!

How Can I Help Someone with Parkinson’s Communicate?

As the disease progresses, the approach to communication will need to change. There are several ways to support the communication abilities of Parkinson’s patients and maintain their independence and quality of their life as much as possible. Here are some strategies to employ when supporting and communicating with someone affected by Parkinson’s Disease. 

While your approach to communication will need to change as the disease progresses, there are ways to help you maintain a relationship with your loved one:


Maintaining eye contact is very important when talking with someone affected by Parkinson’s Disease. Sitting down can be necessary to maintain eye contact at eye level. Parkinson’s disease can make it difficult to multitask, and patients of the disease often struggle to communicate while executing another task (such as walking.) Conversations may require a more concentrated effort from both parties than is usually needed. For many Parkinson’s patients, group conversations are overwhelming and they require more time to respond and comprehend what is being said. One-on-one conversations tend to be much more manageable. 

Keeping it Simple

Avoiding complicated or long sentences and questions can be an effective and helpful approach when communicating with someone struggling with Parkinson’s Disease. When speaking about other people it is important to use names as opposed to pronouns to be very clear about who you are speaking to. It is also important to be very clear when you are changing subjects. 

Time it

For many people affected by Parkinson’s Disease, medications and other factors can make for better and more difficult times of the day. When arranging to visit with your loved one, take this into account and schedule your visits around their best times of the day. 


Allow the Parkinson’s patient adequate time to respond and participate in the conversation and avoid finishing their sentences or prompting them. Parkinson’s Disease can make finding the right words difficult and interrupting them can increase frustration and anxiety. 

Use Tools

Many Parkinson’s disease patients also struggle with handwriting, making written communication difficult. Small wearable microphones can help to amplify a voice that is otherwise very soft and difficult to hear. Video calling technologies such as Skype and Facetime can also help caregivers and loved ones check in on Parkinson’s disease patients. 

How Can Speech Therapy Help Someone with Parkinson’s? 

Speech therapy has proven to be a highly successful resource when it comes to treating Dysarthria (difficulty speaking). A Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) can help improve speech and language, and communication skills that are commonly affected by Parkinson’s Disease. A knowledgeable and experienced speech therapist can teach strategies and exercises to help overcome communication deficits and challenges, and/or changes in memory, organization, problem-solving, or cognition. 

There are many therapists who specialize in dealing with the progression of Parkinson’s Disease and related symptoms. These therapists will use a wide range of exercises, drills, and strategies to increase voice volume, promote word retrieval, improve memory, increase facial expressions and emotion, and improve conversational skills. A speech and language pathologist is one of the best resources for someone living with Parkinson’s Disease. With improved speech, language, and cognition abilities comes increased confidence, independence, and quality of life. Get support for yourself or someone you love now by scheduling your free introductory call with Great Speech today!