Bonnie Nilsson and Sally Ireland make a great team.
Bonnie is a Music Therapist and Sally is a Speech Therapist with a background in 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.
As many as 50 to 90 percent of people living with Parkinson’s experience speech issues including reduced loudness, limited respiratory support, a monotone voice and reduced voice quality. This can seriously affect their ability to communicate their wants and needs.
The voice intervention 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 Ireland – 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 following 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 percent.
The results it delivered included:
- 100% of participants maintained or improved their voice-related quality of life
- 100% of participants reported being satisfied with the program
- Pulmonary function improvements in individuals ranged from 3% to 37%
The Voice Project also achieved significant peer recognition when it won the 2021 Quality Awards of the Mid North Coast Local Health District.
“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 Bonnie 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 Parkinson’s 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
- The 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: 02 6659 2333