Healthcare

Whitefish Therapy & Sport Center Launches Parkinson’s Education Group

Unique speech therapy opportunity is now available to people with Parkinson’s in the valley

By Skye Lucas
Gary Decker attends a speech therapy session with speech language pathologist Ashley Glover Franz at Whitefish Therapy & Sport Center on Sept. 24, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Starting Oct. 6, Whitefish Therapy & Sport Center will host a weekly support group and maintenance program for individuals with Parkinson’s disease who struggle with swallowing and speech.

The educational opportunity comes thanks to a recent grant from the Parkinson’s Voice Project. The 2021 SPEAK OUT!® & LOUD Crowd® Grant will enable Whitefish Therapy & Sport Center to establish a unique Parkinson’s education group in the Flathead Valley.

Whitefish speech-language pathologist Ashley Glover Franz will lead the free program. Glover Franz and speech-language pathologist, Laura Pearce, are also accepting new patients for individual training.

Glover Franz applied for the grant in 2020 when she noticed many of her patients had trouble swallowing or communicating, primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). While treating patients at Logan Health, she also discovered that there were no existing speech-related PD support groups in the valley and wanted to better serve the population.

“The Parkinson’s community is very active in the Flathead Valley, but until now there have not been any support groups to facilitate and promote communication skills,” Glover Franz said. “This is the first time something like this is being offered in Northwest Montana and we’re excited to get started.”

The disorder attacks the motor pathway in charge of automatic movements, like speech and eating. Up to 90% of people with Parkinson’s are at high risk of losing the ability to speak, and swallowing complications account for 70% of the mortality rate in this patient population.

The nonprofit Parkinson’s Voice Project helps individuals with Parkinson’s improve their speech and swallowing by training speech-language pathologists with a speech technique called “speaking with intent.”

The method was developed by Daniel R. Boone, a world-renowned speech-language pathologist and voice expert who recognized in the late 1950s that individuals with Parkinson’s could improve their communication by “speaking with intent.”

According to Glover Franz, speaking with intent is applicable to other life challenges, too.

“Intent means something different to every person,” she said. “Patients can apply it to different parts of their life, whether it’s giving an interview or driving in a rain storm. It’s a hopeful technique.”

Whereas other therapies might solely focus on voice projection, or being loud, approaching speech with intent empowers patients to face challenges with determination. Glover Franz believes that, despite speech being quieter, intent is still preserved in the motor pathway. Since receiving the grant in May, the speech pathologist has witnessed a noticeable shift in her patients’ progress.

“I’m very grateful for the Parkinson’s Voice Project,” she said. “Never before have I had special training to address difficulty with swallowing or speech (for Parkinson’s patients).”

Glover Franz, who works with all different age groups, wants the program to be accessible to anyone, regardless of age.

“For people to come together who are working on this and to practice in a group setting, there’s potential for camaraderie,” she said.

The support group and maintenance program, the LOUD Crowd®, begins Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Whitefish and will meet weekly. Interested people should contact Whitefish Therapy & Sport Center at (406) 862-9378.

Parkinson’s Voice Project hosts daily online speech practice sessions to support and encourage people with Parkinson’s globally. These sessions are available on the organization’s website at www.parkinsonvoiceproject.org.

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