31/10/2013 08:59 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Think Big - Think Loud

Most people normally associate Parkinson's with shaking, tremors, shuffling when walking, and are startled to learn how debilitating and varied the symptoms can be. Loss of speech is a symptom that disturbingly creeps up, often not recognised or paid much attention to by the patient and family, until suddenly realising it's not a cold or sore throat. This is yet another of Parkinson's unwanted gifts, but it comes with no exchange note, so once you receive it, there's no returning it or passing it on to someone else, like the notorious box of chocolates that makes it's rounds, given from one to another and never opened until finally out of date!

To lose the ability of speech is a frightening thought, although my long suffering husband would probably be delighted at a reprieve from my endless chatter. Joking aside, it would be no laughing matter to be unable to communicate verbally. Losing the capability to have a conversation, a fundamental social skill, the far reaching effects would leave one considerably isolated. The most frightening scenario I can think of, is being hospitalised and unable to speak to any doctor or nurse. When someone can't talk (for whatever the reason) one is unfortunately quickly categorized as being of unsound mind, and often harshly treated without dignity or empathy. It's highly insulting for people to assume one's faculties are not up to par because you cannot talk. I saw this happen during one of my many hospital stays. A rather elderly lady who had been hit by a bus, ended up in my ward in the bed next to mine. Presumably in shock, she was unable to speak when first admitted through the ER, and only the following day, did I discover, that this unassuming grey haired lady, spoke several languages fluently and was as sharp as a whip with all her faculties and sense of humour intact. Yet due to her temporary inability to articulate, the nurses spoke very slowly and loud in a deliberate manner, as if she were either stupid or deaf. Of course she was neither, which was quickly revealed, but this simple example illustrates how our basic need to communicate is crucial.

Despite my ill-health, I have great clarity, my mind is sharp and most importantly, I've maintained a sense of humour which gets me through each day. The hellish thought of being unable to speak, imprisoned by Parkinson's petrifying cloak of silence, terrifies me. It is this thought that encourages me to do voice therapy, for after some research, I came across a programme: The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (also known as LSVT - LOUD) focusing on loudness (volume), by thinking big and loud, it has been found to help many problems related to speech.

Now this is where I have to apologise to our lovely understanding next door neighbours, for I'm quite sure they can hear only too well my voice therapy sessions, which probably sound not dissimilar to a cat being strangled. It must be a painful experience listening to me, especially with the resonating acoustics of our high ceiling!

If you have Parkinson's, you may have experienced loss of volume, hoarseness, monotone pitch or slurred speech. To improve one's speech skills which automatically boosts self confidence, repetition of voice therapy exercises really does work. Apart from regaining the loss of control over one's voice, there are other aspects that can be enhanced by following a voice therapy programme, such as posture, breathing, and projecting one's voice so that you'll be heard.

To stick at something, making it part of one's daily routine is hard work, but nothing comes easy when you suffer from Parkinson's. It's worth making the effort; you may not see results immediately, but be patient and persevere, for after a while, you really should hear a difference. Your family and friends will notice the change too, hearing you properly, and husbands who have the uncanny knack of selective hearing, wont be able to use this excuse anymore! I come from a long line of "chatter boxes" so talking is very important to me, particularly if I want to continue with my public speaking engagements, I need to be heard loud and clear so that I get my message across. I am fighting each day to maintain what I have left, and doing all I can to keep Parkinson's at bay.

If you are experiencing problems with speech, see if there are any speech therapy courses near where you live. Think big - think loud!