Center for Language, Speech and Hearing offers Parkinson's Disease wellness classes

May 4, 2015

Courtesy UMass Amherst News Office

The American Speech Language Hearing Association has declared May “Better Hearing and Speech Month,” a good time to learn new information about changes in voice, language, facial expression, swallowing and cognition that can come with Parkinson’s disease, says Lisa Sommers, director of the Center for Language, Speech and Hearing (CLSH) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a clinical assistant professor of communication disorders in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

The center is offering a series of Parkinson’s disease communication and swallowing wellness classes in May and June to provide group therapy and education for people with the disease and their families and friends. Participants will receive an individualized exercise program and learn strategies for coping with Parkinson’s.

The cost is $250 per person for 10 one-hour sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 p.m. beginning on May 19 and ending on June 18 at the center at 358 North Pleasant St. in Amherst. The building has its own parking area and is accessible. Space is limited to 10 and some scholarship funding is available. To register, call 413/545-4010.

“Our class will offer a new approach to Parkinson’s disease by focusing on wellness, on prevention and on alerting people to what can happen to communication and swallowing over the course of the disease. Each participant will be paired with a speech-language pathology graduate student who will prepare personalized routines and exercises tailored to the individual’s needs. We’ll offer a group that will provide education, basic exercises and tips for recognizing when it is time to see a speech-language pathologist for individualized evaluation and treatment.”

Sommers is certified to teach the most up-to-date and effective therapy techniques for people with Parkinson’s. She adds, “There are many things people can do proactively to cope better with the disease, and there a lot of good prevention strategies. We can also help people to know which symptoms they may want to report earlier to their doctors. By not ignoring them and not trying to live with them until they become severe, people can better manage the disease.”

For friends and family, the clinic director adds, the course will increase their ability to have thoughtful discussions with their loved ones and their physicians at diagnosis and as the disease progresses.

The center at UMass Amherst provides direct services to more than 2,000 clients with hearing, speech, language, cognition and swallowing problems per year, according to Sommers. In addition, as many as 90 graduate students complete their clinical practice hours in audiology and speech language therapy there annually.

“Our graduate students will benefit greatly from teaching and assisting participants one-on-one in this course,” she says. “Our students have a unique opportunity to gain this type of clinical experience at our center.”

She adds, “Working with people with Parkinson’s disease takes a particular knowledge base and set of skills that are not easily acquired. They will learn therapy techniques specific to Parkinson’s disease, as well as the ‘people skills’ that are so important when helping people manage and cope with these types of symptoms. It’s both a science and an art to become a good therapist. The students are very lucky to have this opportunity.”