We’ve got some great tips for communicating clearly and with confidence at holiday gatherings or anytime you find yourself part of a large group.
See a Speech Language Pathologist
A soft, quiet voice is one of the most common complaints among people with Parkinson’s. The good news is that your ability to speak and be heard can be improved.
Consider working with a speech language pathologist (SLP), ideally, one with specialized training in the treatment of Parkinson’s. Although it’s easier to reverse speech challenges early on, it’s never too late to benefit from this type of training.
If you have previously worked with a SLP, start by practicing your home exercise program in the days before your festivities. Voice training is like physical training; it’s not “once and done.” You have to keep in practice to maintain the benefits of voice therapy. This may also be a good opportunity to visit your SLP for a refresher course to address any new or recurring issues. For some, the end of the year is also a good time to take advantage of remaining insurance or Medicare benefits that expire on December 31.
For more about how to find a speech language pathologist who knows how to work with people who have Parkinson’s, read “Amplify Your Voice: How to Find a Speech Language Pathologist for Parkinson’s.”
Take Advantage of Technology
What if you don’t have access to a SLP or don’t have time before your holiday events to find one? There are some great voice resources online that you can try.
Search “voice exercise and Parkinson’s” on YouTube.com or with any search engine, such as Google, to find options. The best quality resources will be offered by qualified speech language pathologists that work with people with Parkinson’s. Be sure to check out the credentials of the trainer before you decide which video to try.
You can also practice along with the free webinar series for breath and voice featuring the Davis Phinney Foundation’s John Dean, Director of Healthcare Strategy and Technology and a SLP who specializes in Parkinson’s. Archived recordings are available for viewing anytime. Just click the “Registration” link and enter your name and email to access the series.
Sing a Song
Singing is a great way to have fun, be part of a social group and exercise your voice. The holidays present the perfect opportunity to join a community or church choir and to meet and connect with others. Check with your local community center, senior center, arts center or place of worship to find a group. Don’t forget, you can also enlist family members for informal sing-alongs during the holidays.
If you enjoy singing, don’t limit your voice to the holiday season. The Tremble Clefs is a choir specifically for people with Parkinson’s with chapters throughout the United States. You can also sing along with your favorite songs at home or in the car. There are even karaoke apps you can download to your computer or smartphone for even more options.
Improve Your Environment
Noisy environments are challenging for many people, not just those living with Parkinson’s. If you can, suggest an environment with less background noise for your holiday celebrations. Examples include smaller, more intimate rooms or private homes instead of noisy restaurants or gathering spots. Rooms with lower ceilings can improve acoustics and make conversation easier. You may discover there are many people in your party that are interested in a quieter environment, as well.
If it’s not possible to choose the location, seek out the quieter areas where you are celebrating. For example, consider which spot at the table might be more central to the conversation and/or less noisy, and claim your seat early. When selecting a place to sit, try to avoid sitting in an environment where you will be “backlit” either by a window or some other source of light. Backlighting obscures your eyes and mouth, making it more difficult for others to communicate with you.
Amplify Your Voice
When the measures above aren’t enough or time doesn’t allow for sufficient training before your holiday event, consider using a microphone. Inexpensive, portable speakers with a microphone can be used at the dinner table and other settings to amplify your voice. Many of these speakers are about the size of a small can of juice or paperback book and feature rechargeable batteries.
You might find that portable speakers that use a wireless mic are easier to operate, but can cost a bit more. Inexpensive lavalier microphones that clip onto your shirt and connect to the speaker are an unobtrusive and economical option.
Search “voice amplifier” online to find some of the options available at your local or favorite online retailer. Be sure to read the reviews, though. While items can seem similar and can be about the same price, some cheaper options fail to include proper shielding around the speaker. This often results in excess feedback and noise when the speaker is turned up. As a general rule, avoid any product with complaints from reviewers about squealing or feedback.
Above All, Take Charge
Remember, voice challenges are some of the most trainable symptoms of Parkinson’s. If you take steps now to prepare in the days leading up to holiday celebrations, you can increase both your ability to communicate as well as your confidence that you’ll be heard, freeing you up to more fully enjoy the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends.
What has helped you communicate clearly and with confidence?