Parkinson’s patients project their voices at Lehman

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The student clinicians at Lehman College’s new Parkinson’s disease clinic are on a mission to help patients find their voice.

The degenerative disease is found at its highest rates in the Latino community, and the free Lehman clinic is designed to bring a better life for those afflicted with Parkinson’s directly into the neighborhood.

The focus of the clinic is speech, said Brittany Morrisey, a grad student at Lehman, one of the most visible targets of the condition. Clinicians like Morrisey help Parkinson’s patients “speak with intent,” or in other words, to speak deliberately. Sometimes Parkinson’s not only damages their motor skills, but affects the volume and tone of their voice as well, forcing them to speak slower or softer.

Student clinicians at the Lehman Speech and Hearing Center encourage patients to speak out and focus on their speech.

“We’re training them to speak louder, and we’re using this work to help them speak with purpose in everything they do and say in their lives,” said Beata Royzman, a student clinician and grad student.

Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that can cause tremors or stiffness when it comes to movement. There is no cure, but patients can get help through surgery or therapy.

The Lehman clinic also treats individuals with aphasia, typically caused by a stroke or brain injury. The disorder makes it difficult for people to talk, read, speak, or outright comprehend words.

“We don’t want them to focus on the loudness (of their voice) itself,” Morrisey said, “but to focus on how they’re saying everything and being aware of everything they do. Like how they’re going to produce the next sound or word, or in the auditorium, intentionally project their voice over my head.”

A typical day in the clinic is filled with exercises designed to help strengthen verbal abilities. In some ways, at least to Royzman who majored in music, the exercises resemble musical training.

“I knew I wanted to help people, and I just fell in love with the field,” Royzman said. “It’s an extremely rewarding field and I learn so much from my clients and about my myself, and this really is an incredible opportunity and experience to be able to work with them and help them.”

Communication often is looked at as a natural ability, so when Royzman was given the opportunity to teach just that, she found it challenging at first, but never impossible.

“Providing that support and guidance for others is the most difficult part, but also the most rewarding,” Royzman said.

For Morrisey, working with the patients touches her deeply. Some who attend the clinic wake up to a different life one day because of a stroke or a diagnosis, Morrisey said. Yet despite their loss, the clients are true pupils and dedicated to getting better.

“They love it, and it’s their choice to be there,” Morrisey said. “When they come in every day, they’re excited to speak and get into the activities. And they’re friends with each other.”

Speech treatment for Parkinson’s patients can cost thousands of dollars, many times not even covered by health insurance. That’s one of the reasons why the Lehman program is free. When it comes to the clinic, outreach is a vital part of the program.

“The Bronx itself is a low-income neighborhood, and the need for therapy is huge in every community,” Morrisey said. “You’re not going to find a lot of clinics that are free, let alone fit into people schedules and makes sure everyone’s needs are being met.”

Morrisey has been a part of the program for several weeks, and already she’s making close connections.

“Clients in the Lehman clinic are just fantastic people,” she said.

To learn more about the clinic, visit tinyurl.com/LehmanParkinsons.

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