Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that often leads to shaking, stiffness and difficulty with walking, balancing and coordination. Ninety percent of people with Parkinson’s also risk developing a weak voice that can result in serious speech and swallowing difficulties.
To help make speech therapy programs more accessible to people with Parkinson’s disease, Nina Santus, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education’s department of communication sciences and special education, and the UGA Speech and Hearing Clinic, will receive voice therapy training as part of a grant from the Parkinson Voice Project.
Additionally, more than 60 speech and language pathology graduate students and T.J. Ragan, director of UGA’s Speech and Hearing Clinic and clinical associate professor in the College, will receive voice training therapy for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.
“This is invaluable education for our students,” Santus said. “These students are going to go out into the field and treat hundreds, if not thousands, of clients during their lifetime and be able to teach future students. You can’t quantify the impact of this grant because it keeps going.”
The Parkinson Voice Project, an organization that seeks to preserve the voice of those with Parkinson’s disease and increase awareness by funding intensive speech therapy programs world-wide, combines education, individual speech therapy and ongoing group sessions to improve the speaking abilities of those with Parkinson’s disease.
The grant Santus received also includes a consultation with Parkinson Voice Project's clinical outreach coordinator, free access to the project's research, materials to continue group and individual therapies, marketing brochures and more.
“We used to think this was a degenerative disease, and we couldn’t help when the vocal volume decreases,” Santus said. “But through research, we’ve learned that we can help this population of people develop a stronger voice.”
The UGA’s Speech and Hearing Clinic is a source for evidence-based, innovative audiology and speech-language pathology services. The clinic sees a variety of patients including those with neurological disorders, cognition issues, traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease and more.
Currently, the clinic hosts a support group for people with aphasia, a language disorder caused by a neurological injury of the brain. Because of the training provided by the grant, the clinic will now be able to host an additional support group for those with Parkinson’s disease.
“It is important for us to market directly to those with Parkinson’s disease,” Santus said. “With this grant, I look forward to letting the public know that we offer these services.”