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Speech problems in Parkinson's may not be all physical

Speech problems in Parkinson's may not be all physical
29th March 2016

Providing support for people with Parkinson's disease can be a challenge, as there are a variety of obstacles that can arise. Better understanding of the condition can lead to improved treatment options and quality of life for those living with the disease.

It has long been assumed that people with Parkinson's disease struggle to communicate with others because of physical speech problems associated with their condition. However, new findings suggest their cognitive ability could also play a significant role.

Many people with the disease (around 70 per cent) experience problems communicating and this can significantly impact their quality of life.

Published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, the new study found that many patients with the condition struggle to have the cognitive ability to keep up with conversations, rather than being restricted by physical speech problems.

The analysis, which looked at nearly 5,000 studies to identify 12 relevant ones involving 222 patients, is the first to examine how cognitive abilities affect communication. It found that cognitive status and physical speech problems had an impact on everyday communication for people with Parkinson’s.

Dr Maxwell Barnish, from the University of Aberdeen and who led the study, said patients themselves say the problems are more complex than just physical issues and are more closely linked to cognitive impairment, such as not being able to think quickly enough to keep up with conversations or not being able to find the right words.

The study also found that those who struggled more with cognitive issues had more problems with communication. Even though patients with speech that was less clear had problems talking to others, this had less of an impact on their everyday conversations, according to the research.

Dr Katherine Deane, from UEA’s school of Health Sciences, where the research was conducted, said: “What this research tells us is that speech and language therapists need to assess the cognitive problems of people with Parkinson’s as well as their speech clarity when trying to improve everyday communication."

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