CANANDAIGUA — When most people think of Parkinson’s disease, the image of celebrities such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox — and their visible tremors — often comes to mind.

Another motor function affected by Parkinson’s is speech. To that end, UR Medicine Thompson Health is offering a therapy designed to help patients keep a strong, clear voice.

The program, “Speak Out,” is overseen by the agency’s speech-language pathologists. The therapeutic protocol was developed by the Parkinson Voice Project to improve and preserve the voices of people with Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson- plus syndromes.

“As Parkinson’s disease progresses, individuals typically see a pattern of decreasing volume of speech, articulation accuracy, vocal quality, and saliva management. This results in speech that is difficult to hear and understand,” said Inga Simning, a speech pathologist for UR Medicine Thompson Health. “Generally, the person with Parkinson’s disease is less aware of the speech changes than his/her conversational partners are. Individuals find that they are asked to repeat themselves frequently, spouses often become frustrated with communication difficulties, and social isolation can result. Without treatment, these speech deficits continue to worsen, often to the point where an individual with Parkinson’s disease is unable to communicate verbally.”

During 12 individual speech therapy sessions, the patient and speech-language pathologist work their way through a series of speech, voice and cognitive exercises outlined in a comprehensive workbook. The program encourages patients to “speak with intent” in a confident and deliberate fashion.

Speaking with intent bypasses the neuropathways impaired by Parkinson’s, resulting in a stronger, clearer voice. The practice tasks can also strengthen the muscles used in swallowing, which lessens the risk of aspiration common with Parkinson’s.

“An example of speaking with intent is the way someone would change their speech patterns during an oral presentation or an interview,” Simning said. “Speaking with intent immediately improves articulation, breath support, and vocal quality in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.”

Those interested in the therapy, which is covered by insurance, must first get a script from their doctor for a speech evaluation. For more information, call the department of speech pathology at Thompson Health at (585) 396-6057.

To schedule an evaluation, call Thompson Health rehabilitation services at (585) 396-6050.

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