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SUNY Cortland to provide Parkinson’s speech therapy


SUNY Cortland to provide Parkinson’s speech therapy

Many people with Parkinson’s disease experience speech and swallowing difficulties that can weaken their voice or make them difficult to understand.

Thanks to a grant from the Parkinson Voice Project, students and faculty in SUNY Cortland’s Communication Disorders and Sciences Department will work with Parkinson’s patients from the local community to develop a therapy program that allows them to speak confidently and with intent.

Parkinson’s disease affects the nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine. Symptoms include muscle rigidity, tremors and changes in speech and gait.

The grant has allowed faculty and students to receive training and materials to support a two-pronged approach to strengthening speech in those with Parkinson’s.

The first step is called SPEAK OUT!® It consists of 12 individual sessions of a patient working with a speech-language pathologist to complete speech, voice and cognitive exercises.

“The main idea behind SPEAK OUT! is learning to speak with intent,” said Jill Toftegaard, a clinical educator and lecturer in the Communication Disorders and Sciences Department who traveled to Texas to be trained by the Parkinson Voice Project team as part of the grant. “You’re taking an act that’s normally automatic and making it intentional. It’s those automatic actions that are impacted greatly by Parkinson’s, whether it’s walking or speaking or swallowing. That’s why the catchphrase for this program is ‘Speak with intent.’ We want to make it purposeful.”

Upon completion of the SPEAK OUT! phase, patients move on to The LOUD Crowd! ®, which consists of weekly sessions where patients practice speaking with intent with other SPEAK OUT! graduates. The LOUD Crowd provides accountability, camaraderie and support, as well as regular application of speech skills.   

“One of the main components of this program is a commitment to daily exercise,” Toftegaard said. This, along with weekly attendance at the Loud Crowd, helps clients maintain the functional level of communication achieved during individual therapy.

SUNY Cortland’s Center for Speech, Language and Hearing Disorders is currently accepting clients for these programs. Learn more at or by phone at 607-753-5423.

A select number of graduate students have also received seven to 10 hours of training via the Parkinson Voice Project’s grant and will be supervised by faculty in working directly with clients.

Clinic director Mary Emm, a lecturer in the Communication Disorders and Sciences Department, is excited for the opportunity Cortland students will receive via the grant.

“It’s also opened the door to let our graduate students be trained in this program,” she said. “They already have a certification of training that they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

SUNY Cortland faculty members are working in a variety of ways to create a better quality of life for those with Parkinson’s. In addition to speech therapy, the Center for Speech, Language and Hearing Disorders also assists those who have difficulty swallowing.

A joint research project between the Communication Disorders and Sciences Department and the Kinesiology Department has studied the benefits of high-intensity exercise for Parkinson’s clients.

SUNY Cortland was the only Parkinson Voice Project grant recipient in Central New York although there are other facilities providing similar services in the Rochester area.

Toftegaard and Emm hope that the grant funding will allow this program to grow into the future and advance the study of speech therapy for Parkinson’s clients.