Northeastern’s Speech-Language and Hearing Center provides free speech therapy to Parkinson’s patients across Massachusetts

Residents across Massachusetts with Parkinson’s Disease now have access to free, high-quality speech treatment at the Northeastern University Speech-Language and Hearing Center (NUSLHC) thanks to a collaboration with the Texas-based nonprofit Parkinson Voice Project (PVP). 

The NUSLHC has been awarded a grant worth more than $280,000 in training, services, supplies, and equipment over five years, and has been named Massachusetts’ only SPEAK OUT!® Therapy & Research Center by PVP.

Parkinson’s Disease is the world’s fastest-growing neurological disorder and the second-most prevalent brain disease in the United States. Ninety percent of people with Parkinson’s are at risk of losing their ability to speak, and swallowing complications are the main cause of death in this population. 

Northeastern is one of 16 universities across the country named official Therapy & Research Centers through the grant, setting Northeastern apart from every other SPEAK OUT! provider in the state of Massachusetts and putting the NUSLHC on the map for the Parkinson’s Disease community. 

“This grant speaks to Northeastern’s commitment to service and community since all people with Parkinson’s Disease in the state can receive speech therapy at no charge, and it speaks to Northeastern’s innovative spirit since we are the first and only SPEAK OUT! Therapy & Research Center in the whole state of Massachusetts,” said Elizabeth Martin, MS, CCC-SLP, Assistant Clinical Professor at the Speech-Language and Hearing Center. 

Northeastern speech-language pathology graduate students Olivia Fahey and Sabrina Bender go through speech exercises with their patient Rob Jacobson, who has Parkinson’s Disease, in the Forsyth Building on Friday, April 29, 2022. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

>> Read More: SPEAK OUT! program helps Parkinson’s patients put their best voices forward

Northeastern’s program has already made a difference in people’s lives.

Rob Jacobson was the first graduate of the specialized therapeutic program.

“It’s been really helpful,” said Jacobson, who’s been living with Parkinson’s for more than 15 years. “I’m aware that my voice can change over time” as a result of the degenerative disease, he said. “But my friends tell me they can understand me much better now.”

Northeastern speech-language pathology graduate student Olivia Fahey demonstrates a steady tone before a voice scale exercise with patient Rob Jacobson, who has Parkinson’s Disease. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Research shows that 70% to 80% of people with Parkinson’s disease—a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement—experience changes in their voices that are noticeable to others. More than half (55%) of people with Parkinson’s experience changes in their articulation, as well. 

But these changes can be postponed or mediated with early therapeutic intervention, said Martin. 

“A big part of this program is to regain communication skills through specific exercises and to keep up the consistent practice and use of these skills,” Martin said. “Intent is not something you learn and then you stop practicing. You have to practice daily; you have to go to the maintenance groups.”  

After the four-week program, participants attend a weekly SPEAK OUT! group to maintain their voice and speech skills. This group offers a community support component as well as skills maintenance. 

For Jacobson, he said he had no reservations about participating in the program. 

“I just went in with an open mind, and I’m glad I did,” he said. “I feel proud to be a part of this.”  

To participate in SPEAK OUT!, please contact Martin at the Speech-Language and Hearing Center, 617-373-6891, or by email at [email protected]. All sessions take place in the Behrakis Health Sciences Center on Northeastern’s Boston campus, or online via Zoom.