Living with intention: a speech therapist explains the strategy of the Parkinson Voice project


I recently had a FaceTime conversation with Brittany Dunnum, a speech-language pathologist in Lewiston, Idaho, who works with patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and uses methods developed by the nonprofit Parkinson Voice Project. I met her in Washington, DC, at the 2019 Parkinson’s Policy Forum sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

The Parkinson Voice Project has created a specific approach to speech therapy to help patients with Parkinson’s disease regain and maintain their speech skills. This is done through education, individual speech therapy, daily home practice, group sessions, and regular reassessments. Patients participate in individual therapy sessions with a therapist called “SPEAK OUT!” and group sessions called “The LOUD Crowd”.

Excerpts from our conversation follow.

SF: Brittany, tell us about who made you want to work with patients living with Parkinson’s disease?

BD: My grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in my early childhood, and I didn’t really understand the disease until years after his death. It wasn’t until much later, while attending the Parkinson’s Policy Forum in Washington, DC, that I was introduced to representatives of the Parkinson Voice Project. As a would-be speech pathologist, learning about this amazing speech pathologist-led program for people with PD has solidified my interest in entering the field of speech pathology and serving others while helping them live and thrive with PD.

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Where did you receive training for this job? How long did it take?

A master’s program in speech-language pathology takes two years, two internships, and 400 hours of supervised direct patient care. I attended Minnesota State University, Mankato for my program. Our program offered training in the Parkinson’s Voice Project, which could be completed in about a week, followed by numerous structured group practice sessions LOUD Crowd and SPEAK OUT! individual sessions.

What does a typical session look like?

A typical SPEAK OUT! session with someone with PD consists of lots of conversations, a vocal warm-up, reading exercises and a fun series of what I like to call brain puzzles. Each session lasts 30-45 minutes, and throughout the session, intentional speech cues are given to the individual with PD.

To speak with intention means to convert speech from an automatic function into an intentional act. “Live with Intention” is the motto of the Parkinson Voice Project. The word intention is used as a reminder rather than “speak louder” or “slow down” as a cue from the therapist to clients with PD. While we speech-language pathologists love to chat, we mostly want to hear what you have to say. We love when customers use intent!

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love so many parts of my domain. When working specifically with people with PD, I find it very rewarding to collaborate with them throughout treatment and help them discover how much control they still have over their voice and breathing even though they are living with PD. .

Do you have any advice for someone considering entering this professional field?

If you’re thinking about becoming a speech-language pathologist, find someone in a clinical or educational setting near you and schedule a time to shadow. This position can look so different depending on the setting you choose, and the best way to find out is to see the miracles in action!

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If you want to know more about Brittany and her work, discover her story during our ’30 Days of Parkinson’s’ campaign. As Brittany says, remember to speak with intention and always “embrace the jerk.”


To note: News about Parkinson’s disease today is strictly a disease news and information site. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of anything you read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of News about Parkinson’s disease today or its parent company, BioNews, and aim to spark discussion about issues relating to Parkinson’s disease.

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