Parkinson's disease research finds new use for proven method

12 December 2016

Scientists from the University of Auckland have discovered that a globally recognised treatment to increase speech loudness in Parkinson’s disease can also be used to improve health and swallowing safety in people suffering from this disease.

The Lee Silverman Voice Treatment LSVT® is a recognised treatment for increasing speech volume, but little was known about its effects on swallowing and cough function, until now.

Senior Lecturer and member of the Centre for Brain Research, Dr Anna Miles led this innovative study, which investigated the effects of LSVT® on swallowing and cough function, and found that improvements in swallowing and involuntary cough strength were seen immediately after treatment and maintained six months later.

Classified as a movement disorder, Parkinson’s disease impacts the lives of thousands of people in New Zealand. Recurring chest infections are common and present a significant health risk for people with this disease, often caused by swallowing difficulties and a weak cough.

Clinically known as dysphagia, the inability to swallow food, drink or saliva puts the person at risk of multiple infections, hospitalisations and in some cases death.

Anna’s laboratory aims to reduce the risks of pneumonia and death associated with swallowing difficulties as well as improve the quality of life of suffers.

In Anna’s own words: "I found dysphagia a fascinating area. Not being able to enjoy eating and drinking safely has a huge impact on peoples’ lives. I felt very drawn to helping the lives of people suffering from dysphagia." She says.

In addition to her research, Dr Miles runs a hospital-based student teaching clinic and an outpatient swallowing rehabilitation clinic.