In a project funded by Ataxia UK and the Swiss Association of Friedreich’s Ataxia (ACHAF), Professor Anja Lowit showed positive results using Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) for ataxia.
Many people with ataxia have slurred speech (dysarthria) which makes communication difficult. Few studies have been conducted to test speech therapy interventions on people with ataxia, and none have provided evidence to advise speech and language therapists about how to best help people with ataxia.
A research team from Strathclyde University investigated the effectiveness of LSVT in improving communication in 20 people with ataxia, including FA, SCA6, idiopathic CA and spastic paraplegia type 7 (SPG7). LSVT has previously shown positive results in people with Parkinson’s disease.
Sessions of 50-60 minutes were administered via Skype, twice a week over eight weeks and patients were advised to practise another four or five times a week.
This study represents the largest speech therapy treatment trial conducted on people with hereditary ataxia, and the results are very encouraging. After therapy, participants had more breath available to speak, resulting in improvements in their voices sounding less strained. The study did not show improvements in ability of others to understand participants when listening to recordings, but many felt they sounded clearer or had to repeat themselves less, and were more confident when communicating. Outcomes reported by the participant demonstrate that they felt lessened anxiety while communicating or reduced effort required for speaking, were important factors that can be used a measure of success of the treatment.
Professor Lowit said: “We are excited about the outcomes of our study, as it shows that people with ataxia can improve their communication with the help of speech therapy. Although the treatment could not improve everybody’s speech, the majority of our participants reported benefits and we now plan to do further research to be able to help a wider group of people with ataxia.”
The researchers suggest that speech and language therapists consider providing LSVT treatment for people with ataxia, provided that the impact of the treatment is closely monitored.
This research has recently been published in a scientific journal. Read the full article here.