Parkinson’s Voice Project takes off

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3rd November 2021
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1st December 2021

Parkinson’s Voice Project takes off

Parkinson’s Voice Project takes off

Bonnie Nilsson and Sally Ireland make a great team.

Bonnie is a Music Therapist and Sally is a Speech Therapist with a background in music and singing.

Together with Vince Carroll – a Parkinson’s Specialist Nurse based in Coffs Harbour – they developed the Parkinson’s Voice Project which is now poised for launch across the state.

The Project had its beginnings in the pre-COVID era when Bonnie was delivering the  program in person for the Nambucca Parkinson’s Support Group with Vince’s support.

Between 50 and 90 per cent of people living with Parkinson’s experience speech issues including reduced loudness, limited respiratory support, a monotone voice and reduced voice quality.

The voice intervention project addresses these speech challenges through high-effort vocal and respiratory tasks, speech exercises, and group singing – as well as providing social communication opportunities.

Seeing the success that Bonnie was achieving, Vince asked her to work with him to start up a voice development program for the Coffs Harbour Parkinson’s Support Group.

They felt that the program could be further developed with the addition of a Speech Therapist to the team, so they approached Sally – both for her professional skills and passion for music.

The Parkinson’s Voice Project was established as a face-to-face program in February 2020 but had to transition online due to COVID-19 restrictions in the ensuing months to help participants maintain social connections.

The Project began a formal eight-week online program in October 2020. It was delivered in 90-minute sessions including voice warm-up, high-effort vocal and respiratory tasks, speech exercises, group singing and social communication.

The online program’s objective was to improve participants’ voice-related quality of life and voice intensity by 50 per cent.

The results it delivered included:

  • All participants maintained or improved their voice-related quality of life
  • All participants reported being satisfied with the program
  • Pulmonary function improvements in individuals ranged from three to 37 per cent

The Voice Project also achieved significant peer recognition when it won the Keeping People Healthy category of the Mid North Coast Local Health District 2021 Health Innovation Awards.

“While working with Zoom does not allow real-time interaction – so assessment of individual progress can be tricky – it does have other advantages. For example, Zoom has ‘break out rooms’ which allow myself and the person I am assessing to virtually step aside from the main group so we can work one-on-one,” explained Sally Ireland.

“We are learning what works and what doesn’t in the online space as we go along, so the Project is evolving,” said Bonny Nilsson. “We can certainly assess functional improvements using questionnaires, and we are able to directly observe rhythm, coordination and facial expressions. And there is no doubt this program – whether face-to-face or online – has a positive impact on the mental health of people living with Parkinson’s.”

While Bonnie, Sally and Vince are the public faces of the Voice Project, it would not have been possible without the financial support of:

  • The Rotary Club of Coffs Harbour Daybreak
  • Palm Beach Bowls Club
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Parkinson’s NSW, and
  • Mid North Coast Local Health District

Interested in participating in the Parkinson’s Voice Project in your area?

Please phone Vince Carroll, Specialist Parkinson’s Nurse on: 02 6659 2333

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