Riverside's Gloria Thomas, MS, CCC/SLP and Spencer Sewell, PT

Tappahannock, Va. – Gloria Thomas, MS, CCC/SLP and Spencer Sewell, PT have seen firsthand the effects of Parkinson’s disease on their patients.

Tremors. Slow, stiff, small movements. An inability to be heard.

“When patients have major deficits like this, it is life changing,” said Thomas, a speech therapist. “People get depressed. They get angry. They want to give up.”

But there is the possibility to improve, and even more so now for residents in the Tappahannock and Northern Neck region.

Riverside is pleased to announce that Thomas and Sewell are among the health system’s newest therapists to complete LSVT (Lee Silverman Voice Treatments) Global training and earn certifications in LSVT BIG and LSVT LOUD therapies. These evidence-based speech, physical and occupational therapies were designed for patients with Parkinson’s disease as well as other neurological conditions including stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and Down Syndrome.

Until now, patients in Tappahannock and in the Northern Neck region were “driving outside of the community to get this type of therapy,” Thomas said. “It’s a wonderful thing to offer this therapy right there at home, locally. It’s going to be a lot easier for patients to come and get the treatment and be able to come back whenever they need a little refresher.”

Riverside's Gloria Thomas holding Think Loud sign

Physical Therapy with LSVT BIG

Under the guidance of a trained physical therapist, LSVT BIG helps people with Parkinson’s disease to use their body more normally.

“When people have the disease and other neurological deficits they move slowly,” said Sewell, who has been a practicing physical therapist for more than three decades. “Their movements are slow and not complete, but they don’t realize it. They think they are normal. They know there is something going on, but they don’t realize exactly what it is and how it has affected them.”

Often, patients find trouble with getting around, getting dressed and with other activities of daily living.

LSVT BIG effectively trains patients to improve movement for any activity, whether “small motor” tasks like buttoning a shirt or “large motor” tasks like getting up from sofa or chair or maintaining balance while walking, according to LSVT Global. The treatment improves walking, self-care and other tasks by helping people “recalibrate” how they perceive their movements with what others actually see. It also teaches them how and when to apply extra effort to produce bigger motions – more like the movements of everyone around them.

“All patients have to remember is to think big,” Sewell said. “Step big. Move big. Reach big. They think they look exaggerated or silly, but they don’t. Then they set those new pathways in their brain to their muscles and their movement, and movement no longer becomes a chore.”

Speech Therapy with LSVT LOUD

Parkinson’s disease patients often suffer from voice and speech issues that can include soft voice, hoarseness, monotone, mumbled speech and rapid speech.

“Every patient that comes in has a goal that they want to meet,” Thomas said.

Some just want to be able to eat a hamburger while others want to “talk and, as they say, not sound dumb,” Thomas said.

LSVT LOUD therapy improves communication by helping train patients to speak with a voice and volume that's easy for others to hear and understand. The treatment is built on tailored exercises that strengthen the voice box and speech system.

Where LSVT BIG has patients moving in bigger motions, the main focus of LSVT LOUD is to train patients to speak more loudly, helping them develop and become comfortable with a voice that they can use without strain at a loudness they know sounds normal to friends and family.

“With Parkinson’s patients, they have generalized weakness and their sensory awareness that they are not taking in deep breaths or not speaking loud,” Thomas said. “When they do speak up, they feel like they are speaking too loud because they are not used to it. As patients learn to coordinate breathing and speaking and increase the sensory perception of their voice, it gets easier to sound more normal.”

While LSVT LOUD focuses on vocal loudness, research shows the treatment can also help with other qualities that improve communication, including articulation and intonation and even facial expression.

Riverside's Spencer Sewell in therapy chair

Making an Appointment

LSVT Global therapies will not cure the disease, Sewell said.

“But what we are doing is improving the quality of life for people and allowing them to take control of the disease instead of allowing the disease to control them,” Sewell said.

Patients should contact their primary care physician or neurologist and ask about a referral to a therapist certified in LSVT BIG and LOUD. The treatment can be intensive for patients and their families. It takes place for one hour, four times a week over the course of four weeks. Patients also have homework – exercises and specific activities they learn during the four weeks that they have to do both during and after the course of their treatment.

The LSVT BIG and LOUD therapies are available at multiple Riverside locations on the Middle Peninsula and the Northern Neck. For more information on the Middle Peninsula call 804-693-8867, or on the Northern Neck call 804-443-6090.

Published: November 27, 2018