In the last year or so, my Beloved has suffered from “husband deafness”. Even when I am talking in a perfectly well-modulated conversational tone, he complains that he can’t hear me. I urged my husband to get a hearing test and sure enough, he has some mild hearing loss like most of us over 60. Aha! I am vindicated.
Not so fast — one of the tricks that Parkinson’s plays on you is that your brain thinks you are talking normally, but you’re actually talking softly. Parkinson’s also atrophies all your muscles, including the ones used for speech. The $10 medical term is “hypophonia” — this sounds like you are a super phony (a useful word these days) but literally translates to “under voiced”.
Do I have hypophonia? Debatable. I was sent to a speech therapist, who gave me about an hour’s worth of evaluation tests: speaking in a normal conversation, speaking about a subject you are excited about, reading aloud, and many other tests. The therapist measured my speech generally in the upper 60s (decibels). So what’s normal? This is the debatable part. My therapist said normal conversation was 72-76 decibels. However, a quick visit with my research associate, Dr. Google, puts normal conversation at 50-65 (National Institute of Health), 60 (Center for Hearing and Communication), 60 (Noise Help). By most organizations’ standards, I speak well within the range for normal conversation. I also don’t have the monotone typical of Parkies; my voice goes up and down to help convey my meaning. However, it’s irrelevant whether I have hypophonia now — given the speech therapist’s evaluation, I will eventually have hypophonia, like an estimated 89% of Parkies.
There are two main types of therapies for hypophonia:
–Purely physical: Build up the breathing muscles in the diaphragm.
–Physical and mental: Train the brain to match the perception and reality of speech volume. Also, train breathing muscles to work more efficiently.
These are not competing but complementary therapies. I have started on the first one, which features an attractive nose clip and a little gizmo called the EMST150 (Expiratory Muscle Strength Training.) More on this in a future post…but don’t hold your breath!