Whitefish Therapy & Sport Center launches Parkinson’s Education Group

Starting October 6, Whitefish Therapy & Sport Center will host a weekly support group and maintenance program for people with Parkinson’s who have difficulty swallowing and speaking.

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

Whitefish speech-language pathologist Ashley Glover Franz will lead the free program. Glover Franz and speech therapist Laura Pearce also accept new patients for one-on-one training.

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

“The Parkinson’s community is very active in the Flathead Valley, but so far there has been no support group to facilitate and promote communication skills,” said Glover Franz. “This is the first time something like this has been offered in Northwest Montana and we are excited to begin.”

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

The non-profit Parkinson’s Voice project is helping people with Parkinson’s disease improve their speech and swallowing skills by training speech-language pathologists in a speech technique called “speaking with intention”.

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

Speaking with intention, Glover Franz says, also applies to other life challenges.

“Intention means something different to each person,” she said. “Patients can apply it to different parts of their lives, whether it’s giving an interview or driving in a rainstorm. It is a hopeful technique.

While other therapies may focus solely on voice projection or being strong, approaching speech with intention allows patients to meet challenges with determination. Glover Franz believes that although speech is calmer, intention is still preserved in the motor channel. Since receiving the grant in May, the speech-language pathologist has seen a noticeable change in the progress of her patients.

“I am very grateful to Parkinson’s Voice Project,” she said. “I had never received any special training to deal with swallowing or speech problems (for patients with Parkinson’s disease). “

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

“For people to come together and work on this and exercise as a group, there is potential for camaraderie,” she said.

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

Parkinson’s Voice Project runs daily online speaking practice sessions to support and encourage people with Parkinson’s disease around the world. These sessions are available on the organization’s website at www.parkinsonvoiceproject.org.

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