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Giving voice to patients of Parkinson’s disease

The University of Utah’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic has received a grant worth more than $280,000 from the Parkinson Voice Project. The funds will pay for training, services, supplies and equipment for online treatment for Parkinson’s patients who are homebound or live in rural areas.

Parkinson’s disease is the second-most prevalent brain disease in the U.S. and includes symptoms like muscle stiffness, tremors, and difficulty swallowing. The Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic is the state’s only SPEAK OUT! Therapy & Research Center, using a highly effective, research-based speech therapy protocol that can minimize the risk of life-threatening swallowing complications.

Thanks to this grant and collaboration, the clinic commits to provide SPEAK OUT! Therapy at no cost to any person in Utah diagnosed with Parkinson’s or a related movement disorder. The clinic will specialize in online delivery of these therapeutic services and conduct efficacy research on SPEAK OUT!

“We have a mission to provide affordable services to patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s throughout Utah and surrounding states,” said College of Health assistant professor and clinical lead Brett Myers, Ph.D., CCC-SLP. “We are prepared to offer these at no cost to patients.”

The grant will last for five years and allow university faculty members to travel to the Parkinson Voice Project headquarters for specialized instruction in SPEAK OUT! Therapy and research. The Parkinson Voice Project will also provide online training for the rest of the university’s speech-language pathology clinical and research faculty, as well as all graduate students.

“We selected the University of Utah’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic because of their compassion and their commitment to serving their Parkinson’s community,” said Samantha Elandary, founder and CEO of the Parkinson Voice Project. “These new SPEAK OUT! Therapy & Research Centers will eliminate the barriers currently preventing thousands of people with Parkinson’s from receiving speech treatment.”

Like many healthcare providers, the Parkinson Voice Project pivoted to telehealth services when the pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020. Elandary and her team found that patients did better with online therapy—it removed barriers that had previously prevented patients from receiving speech treatment. Now the nonprofit has the goal to replicate this online speech therapy program in university speech therapy clinics in every U.S. state.

Myers and the College of Health join 15 other universities across the U.S. to receive grants from the Parkinson Voice Project this year. The news means that people with Parkinson’s in 17 states now have access to valuable speech therapy, regardless of location, transportation, insurance or financial challenges.