PFNCA Volunteer Rick Vaughan recently visited several PFNCA Communications Club program sessions. He shares his observations below.
PFNCA Communication Club meetings are open to all people with Parkinson’s free of charge, compliments of the Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area (PFNCA). The sessions are held once a week at the same time and location, and are led by a speech-language pathologist. The sessions are also open to those with Parkinson’s plus disorders such as progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).
I attended Communication Club sessions in Maryland and Virginia. Participants were seated in a circular pattern or around a rectangular table so that each person, to the greatest extent possible, could see and, more importantly, hear everyone else. That of course is the goal.
Many participants came early, welcomed the others, did a little catching up. It was clear from the onset these folks knew and loved each other. You couldn’t miss it. They came from everywhere, both geographically and career-wise. All walks of life – attorneys, government officials, engineers, magazine editors. Real people.
The participants were reminded why strong speech is important. Besides the obvious (carrying on a conversation), loud, confident speakers are far less likely to be the target of pick-pockets and other petty criminals than soft-spoken individuals. Strong speech says you are strong everywhere.
A number of drills were used to improve breath support and help keep the vocal folds strong and flexible. Counting, yelling “Hey”, keeping the “Ahhhhhhh” going as long as possible, doing the “Rap” poem, reading common, often humorous phrases from flash cards. Fun, team-oriented, supportive of those struggling a bit. Great atmosphere.
The participants were encouraged to talk. Some structure was provided – the Olympics, tell us about an achievement you are especially proud of, what was the first job you got paid for. In so doing, they were required to 1) understand the question, 2) use cognitive skills to formulate a coherent answer, 3) tell everybody, and 4) tell them loudly. Sometimes a speaker reverted back to quiet; “We can’t hear you” said the group.
You couldn’t miss the warm, supportive relationship between the therapists and the Communication Club members. From knowing each participant, to awareness of specific disabilities, to special attention to address an area for improvement, the therapists were on top of it. From the team there was admiration for their leaders – makes it fun, empathetic, qualified, not in a hurry.
And to be part of the group. “It couldn’t get any better!” they said. All of us afflicted with the same medical issues. No need to hide anything. Surrounded by extraordinarily interesting and successful people who really are your friends. Stimulating discussion on any number of subjects. Newcomers welcome, mutual support without criticism a given.
It didn’t surprise me that everyone was already looking forward to next week’s Communication Club meeting.