Interview with Sarah Talach
PD Active Communication Workshop Instructor

1. Why is Voice Training important for people with Parkinson’s? 

Exercising the muscles involved in speech, voice and swallowing are essential for someone living with PD. To quote, Samantha Elandary, M.A., CCC-SLP (Founder & CEO of the Parkinson Voice Project): “Up to 90% of people with Parkinson’s are at high risk of losing their ability to speak, and aspiration pneumonia caused by swallowing issues accounts for 70% of the mortality rate in this patient population.” That said, it is vital to exercise one’s voice to maintain functional communication and swallowing skills to live a full life for as long as possible. Speech, voice and swallowing issues often go unnoticed or are easily ignored as many individuals tend to focus more on their mobility and other challenges related to PD. I will argue as a speech-language pathologist that speech, voice and swallowing are just as important and that is why part of my job is to continue to educate those living with PD along with their families. 

2. Sarah, how did you become interested in speech therapy? 

I had an older friend/role-model when I was in high school who was a speech-language pathologist and she shared her love of the profession with me. Speech-Language Pathology was my one and only major while attending California State University, Chico. I then went on to complete my Master’s degree at University of the Pacific. I fell in love with the field and knew it was a fit for my personality and I love to be social and communicate. I have been practicing for almost 16 years and I can’t imagine having another job. 

3. How did you become interested in speech therapy for people with Parkinson’s? 

As a young clinician I started my career in a medical setting and worked with patients with a variety of conditions ranging from strokes, traumatic brain injury along with progressive diseases such as Parkinson’s. My career evolved to working with children in various settings, but when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in early 2019 I found myself coming full circle in my career. As a speech-language pathologist, I saw the signs before my father was diagnosed and I knew that we would need to take a proactive role to maintain his quality of life. It is this drive to maintain my father’s functional communication and ability to interact with our family for as long as possible that has led me to working with those living with Parkinson’s disease. I have video calls with my father three mornings a week to make sure he is keeping up his practice. I know all too well that it’s easy for folks to lose motivation and that’s why it often takes a class and group of people coming together to help one stay motivated and accountable to their practice. 

4. How can people practice Voice Training? 

Speech therapy is a skilled service covered by most insurance plans so I would strongly encourage anyone living with Parkinson’s to seek out an assessment with a speech-language pathologist to get a baseline of their skills. I especially encourage one to seek out an assessment if you are experiencing difficulty with your swallowing or communication skills. That said, assessments with physical therapy and occupational therapy can be equally valuable to help one maintain his/her independence for as long as possible. There are various voice programs out there such as LSVT® and SPEAK OUT!® that have been proven to improve the speech and swallowing skills for those living with PD. I also encourage anyone interested to join PD Active’s Voice Class and see if it is of benefit to you.