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Speech therapy program helps Parkinson’s patients regain speaking ability.

By Daniel McDonald

Bill Hustrulid is a storyteller.

He also was an engineering professor for many years, and a strong voice has been crucial to his work as a lecturer.

The Spokane resident is retired now – though he keeps himself busy authoring books – but maintaining his speaking abilities is as important as ever.

Hustrulid, 75, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago, and started noticing his voice getting weak – a symptom of Parkinson’s – when his wife began frequently asking him to repeat himself.

“It’s a very complicated disease,” he said. “Some days it’s better than others.”

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive disorder of the central nervous system involving neuron damage in the brain that causes dopamine levels to drop, impacting a person’s ability to control their movements. The cause is unknown, and while there is no cure, treatment options are available to manage the symptoms.

“It affects me every day,” Hustrulid said, adding, “In terms of having depression or feeling sorry for myself, I don’t.”

Every week, he participates in a therapy program brought to the Spokane area by Doreen Nicholas, a speech-language pathologist at Eastern Washington University, after she underwent training by Parkinson Voice Project, a Texas-based nonprofit dedicated to helping Parkinson’s patients retain their ability to speak.

It consists of two parts: Speak Out, a series of one-on-one sessions that help the patient regain their voice, followed by the Loud Crowd, weekly group therapy that helps them retain it.

Nicholas, director of the university’s Hearing and Speech Clinic, says the training she received from Parkinson Voice Project helps those with the disease regain and maintain their voice, while also offering graduate students there a valuable learning opportunity.

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