First Person

Fighting Voice Deterioration: A Therapy That Works for me By George Copeland

It all began in the autumn of 2006 when I received a call from Bonnie Bereskin, M. Ed. Speech-Language Pathologist at Baycrest Centre, Toronto, whom I met and worked with while taking a course in self-management of Parkinson’s disease (PD). She proposed that I participate in a year long speech exercise research program known as the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment for Parkinson’s. 

PD has many symptoms, a primary one being speech deterioration. The bad news is that without therapy, the voice gets weaker, which may result in loneliness, poor self-esteem, isolation, and difficulty in swallowing with the inevitable consequence of choking. The good news is that research has shown that regular speech exercises can strengthen the voice, improve swallowing, and minimize choking.

The research program, which Bonnie explained, was to be for 12 months and would require the assistance of several persons to form a Communication Circle to interact with me as the patient. Where to find the necessary helpers? My wife and I hit on the idea of requesting help from my Kiwanis Club of Don Mills, Golden K. This would help involve and train family and friends in the proposed therapy.

Early in 2007, my wife Nancy made a request for volunteers to my Kiwanis group. An astonishing 19 members came forward – 18 volunteered to serve as coaches and one to coordinate it all. Organization took place swiftly and on March 1, 2007 after two hours of education and orientation, the 18 volunteers and one coordinator were ready to begin a one year commitment to do speech therapy with me in my home. The more volunteers that are available the less frequently they have to practice with me. As a minimum it was suggested that I practice four times per week.

During that 12 month period a separate coach met with me four times weekly to conduct measured speech exercises and to converse in sessions of about 45 minutes to one hour in length. I was encouraged to speak with volume and to match and exceed previously achieved exercise scores for which detailed records were kept.

The results have been breathtaking. My natural voice has been restored and I am enjoying the benefits, as is the world’s best caregiver, my wife, whose encouragement and leadership have been critical. My coaches are delighted and have assured me on several occasions of the joy and warm feeling that comes from helping another person.

At our third quarter annual meeting of my speech language pathologist, coaches, and my wife, Bonnie praised the work of the volunteers. “You are a group of skilled coaches who have helped George to attain a louder stronger clearer voice with interesting inflections.”

At the end of the 12 month commitment, the volunteers decided that they wanted to continue the program and indeed have accepted a temporary change in venue from my residence to Bridgepoint Hospital (as I had a fall). Not one of the volunteers has resigned and in fact, their numbers have grown due to interest in the program. Their loyalty and advice have been phenomenal.

The techniques involved in this speech therapy have been so successful and cost-effective (Kiwanis services are free) that there is considerable interest in rolling out the program to the benefit of other persons with PD.

George Copeland Q.C. is a retired lawyer living in Toronto. He has been living with Parkinson’s for nine years. Mr. Copeland prepared this article with the encouragement and assistance of Leila Khunaysir, Recreation Therapist, Bridgepoint Hospital, Toronto.


George and his Coaches
Front Row: Bob Ward, Brain Smale, George Copeland, Al Hall, Ernie Magee
Middle Row: Bud Brown, Ken Allen, Keith Allen, Tony Mason, Robert Boyd, John McReynolds
Back Row: Harold Oliver, Doug Hicks, Stan Stevenson, Warren Wyatt