July 01, 2020 Posted by Jessie Hillock, M.A. CCC-SLP, CDP BlogParkinson's Disease

Speech and Swallowing disorders in Parkinson Disease

Individuals and families coping with Parkinson Disease have several key members as part of their care team, but one member that isn’t always first to be thought of is a speech-language pathologist. Speech-language pathologists specialize in treatment of voice and swallowing disorders, and research indicates that 75-90% of individuals with Parkinson Disease experience speech and voice impairments as the disease progresses. This can also include swallowing impairments, which places individuals at risk for aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia is a form of pneumonia that is caused by food, stomach acid, or saliva entering into the lungs. To help guide on when it might be time to advocate for speech-language pathology services, some common signs to look out for are listed below:

What are Signs or Characteristics of Trouble with Voicing:

  • Communication partners notice speech rate is very quick
  • Communication partners frequently ask for speaker to speak up or slow down
  • Social isolation
  • Feeling like you are straining to produce voice
  • Unpredictable clarity

*Communication difficulties related to “masked face” making it difficult for communication partners to interpret emotions or interest in topic so when voice difficulties are added on top of that, communication partners can become frustrated.

Risks Associated with Voice Deficits:

  • Social Isolation
  • Decrease in Cognitive Function
  • Impact on Cognitive Function

What are Signs or Characteristics of Trouble with Swallowing:

  • Coughing during or after eating or drinking
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling as though food feels stuck in throat
  • Food collecting in mouth (gums, tongue, cheeks)
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Difficulty with keeping foods and liquids in mouth
  • Drooling
  • Avoiding eating or drinking in public or when visitors are around

Risks Associated with Swallowing Impairment (Dysphagia):

  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Aspiration
  • Silent Aspiration
  • Aspiration Pneumonia
  • Further decline in function
  • Death

What Should You Do If You Are Experiencing Signs or Characteristics Of Voice or Swallowing Difficulties?


Call your neurologist or Primary Care Provider and discuss with them what you are experiencing. Your doctor will review your symptoms and can provide you with a referral to a speech-language pathologist for services. Your speech-language pathologist will do an evaluation in the area that you are experiencing difficulty whether that be voice or swallowing or both. Your therapist will include you in developing goals to address your needs and are there to support you on your journey.

Jessie Hillock M.A. CCC-SLP, CDP
Owner, Speech-Language Pathologist
The Memory Compass, LLC