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Sentara speech therapy program helps Parkinson's patients speak with intent

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Posted at 2:22 PM, Jun 27, 2021

Michael Showalter is no stranger to Sentara Therapy Center.

The 68-year-old has Parkinson's and spends much of his time practicing voice exercises. He's one of the many people participating in the center's "SPEAK OUT!" program, which emphasizes speaking with intent and converts speech from an automatic function to an intentional act.

A grant from the Parkinson's Voice Project helps Sentara speech pathologists like Sara Schmitz meet with different patients to work on speaking with intent.

"We always say that the individual with Parkinson's is putting in the heavy work, because we coach them through it and we teach them, but they have to pull their weight and do it every day at home," Schmitz said.

"The class has helped me develop a stronger voice through the practice of, you know, when I take my lessons at home and here," Showalter told News 3. "It's just given me more confidence to be in a public place where people aren't asking me to repeat myself all the time."

Alongside his wife Carol, James Kerbin also participates in sessions. In addition to improving his ability to project and communicate, he told us that he hasn't had any serious choking problems since he began working with the center.

"The number one complication associated with Parkinson's is aspiration and subsequently aspiration pneumonia, and that comes from decreased swallow function and timing," Schmitz explained.

Showalter agrees that sessions have been a major help in this area. "I could be driving down the road and start choking, and for the last 6 months, I have not had that problem," he said.

Practicing speech with SPEAK OUT! is a small intention that over time makes a big difference.

Workbooks and online classes are also available for people at home. To learn more, click here.