By: Megan Batzer, Speech and Language Pathologist, PRA
“Megan, dance with intent!” Ben, my husband, told me this the other day when we were at our weekly dance class. We were on lesson five of six and his toes were feeling the effects of my attempt at a rumba. I fought the urge to roll my eyes. Instead, I took a breath, stood up a little straighter, and thought about each movement before I executed it. I began dancing with intent. The music continued and our teacher smiled and nodded with approval as we rumbaed past.
“With intent” is a phrase Ben’s been hearing a lot about recently. In September, I attended a symposium hosted by the Parkinson Voice Project. There, I was trained in a two-part speech therapy program designed for people with Parkinson’s Disease. The catch-phrase of the program is “speak with intent.”
Merriam-Webster defines intent as “having the mind, attention, or will concentrated on something or some end or purpose.”
Having intent, where the mind is concentrated on some purpose, changes the way we do things. With speech, that means taking a powerful breath, using a strong and emotion-filled voice, controlling rate and articulation, among other things. I often encourage people whom I see in the clinic to think about aspects other than speaking where intent can be applied. People have shared with me that they now walk, write, listen, and swallow with intent – and that it’s made a difference.
Our brain has two control systems: one that controls automatic movements and one that controls intentional ones.
Let’s take a look at sports to contrast the automatic and intentional systems. In basketball, consider how shooting hoops during game play differs from shooting free throws. Shooting hoops during game play seems to be fast and highly automatic. With free throws, players go through their routines and prepare themselves to make the shot, a process that requires much more intent.
As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I help people who have difficulties speaking and swallowing, two highly automatic activities. The system that controls automatic movements is dependent on dopamine. The loss of dopamine with Parkinson’s Disease leads to issues with movement. With Parkinson’s Disease, speech is often softer and less clear and people experience difficulty swallowing.
The good news? The intentional system in the brain is less dependent upon dopamine. SLPs trained in SPEAK OUT!® teach people with Parkinson’s Disease to use the less dopamine-dependent system in the brain while strengthening the muscles used for speech and swallowing. By changing speech from an automatic function to an intentional act, speech is often stronger, clearer, and better understood.
As a clinician, it has been my privilege to witness the change that speech therapy exercises and “speaking with intent” has had on individuals. A few weeks ago, after the first week of SPEAK OUT!®, a patient’s wife said to him, “Your voice sounds like it did in the 90’s!” I had a LOUD Crowd® member tell me, “Megan, this program has been great – I have been able to make something [my voice] better and stronger – that’s not supposed to happen with Parkinson’s disease, things are supposed to get worse!”
There is power in having one’s mind concentrated on a purpose. I encourage you to reflect on what impact intent could have on your life. What is important to you? I know my husband would say, “not having my feet stepped on!” For most of the patients I see, the answer would be, “Being heard.”
*SPEAK OUT!® typically consists of 12 individual speech therapy sessions (3x/week for 4 weeks) and home practice. It is a pre-requisite to become a member of The LOUD Crowd®. SPEAK OUT!® is available at PRA’s Plaza and Tipton Clinics.
*The LOUD Crowd® is a weekly speech therapy exercise and maintenance group for people who have graduated from SPEAK OUT!®. LOUD Crowd® is available at the Mercy Medical Plaza.