Strength Training for the Respiratory System: SLP Case Study at Olympia

By Suzanne Estebo Simko, M.S. CCC-SLP, Olympia Transitional Care, Olympia, WA
Kathy came to us in early February 2021 due to progressive weakness. When she first arrived at OTC, although she was alert, she had difficulty having the energy to even keep her eyes open. Kathy stated she was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1992, but was able to maintain her productive life. After her diagnosis, she continued to work for an additional 10 years as an executive assistant for the WA Army and National Guard. She stated she and her husband are very social in nature and loved to entertain.

During her initial speech evaluation, Kathy was concerned about her vocal volume being recently diminished. She shared that she used to “sing all the time…in the shower, choir, car, and karaoke nights,” and now, “I squeak out.” It also upset her that her condition was affecting communication with loved ones: “My husband can’t understand me at all when I call him on the phone from here,” she said.

SLP Suzanne Simko recently took a CEU course on strength training for the respiratory system. Her patient Kathy seemed like she could really benefit from the information and techniques learned in this course. Due to Kathy’s breath support weakness, she was not able to complete all the recommended repetitions on The Breather device in her first session. However, both ladies were astounded at the noticeable difference in Kathy’s speech intelligibility at the end of the first session! Her vocal volume was much louder, and she had enough air support to produce sentences versus her baseline one- to two-word responses. The next day when seen for treatment, Kathy’s baseline speech was still more intelligible than previous sessions and almost as important, she was smiling and enthusiastic to go to speech therapy and resume her respiratory system training. Kathy now asks for handouts to help her remember oral/motor and breath support exercises to do when she’s not in ST. She stated she feels “hopeful for the future.”