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Program gives Parkinson's patients a voice

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Michell Ruskamp leads the LOUD Crowd class as part of the voice for Parkinson's rehabilitation service Friday afternoon at the Columbus Wellness Center.

COLUMBUS-- Marge Bauer was preparing herself for an eventful Friday. Her plans for the day were to get together with friends and visit area fish fries. Before the traveling could begin, she had one appointment to meet.

For four years, Bauer has attended weekly LOUD Crowd® classes sponsored by Columbus Community Hospital. The class is one of two programs the Parkinson’s Voice Project holds to help preserve the voices of patients with Parkinson’s.

So far, the classes have helped Bauer tremendously.

“I’ve been coming to these classes since they first started,” she said. “That was in 2014. At first I was having trouble speaking and swallowing. When I first came to these classes, I spoke very softly. Now I’m able to speak with intent.”

Speaking with intent is heavily emphasized by Speech Language Pathologist and Assistant Director of Rehabilitation Services, Michell Ruskamp, who teaches LOUD Crowd®.

“I received training in Richardson, Texas about four years ago,” she said. “In the training we talked about LOUD Crowd® and how it can help patients with Parkinson’s and I thought, ‘That’s what we need here’.”

Nebraska has one of the highest rates of Parkinson’s in the country, Ruskamp said. After coming back to Columbus from her training, she worked with CCH to develop a Parkinson’s program.

“We have a team of physical, outpatient, occupational and speech therapists to help our patients,” she said. “Our team understands that patients will have difficulty walking, and speaking. With how Parkinson’s affects the brain, patients don’t know they are talking too softly.”

The Parkinson’s Voice Project has developed a two part therapy system to assist patients in regaining and maintaining their speech. The first is an individual class called SPEAK Out®, where participants work one-on-one with Ruskamp in learning how to improve swallow and voice function.

Ruskamp requires patients to take SPEAK Out® before they participate in the group class, LOUD Crowd™.

The class normally comprises of ten patients who read aloud from workbooks provided by PVP at no cost. Patients project their voices to a series of speaking exercises outlined in the book. The activities include enunciation of “mee-may-moo” and counting to one hundred.

Each word is voiced “with intent” and in an almost shouting fashion.

The Parkinson’s Voice Project is a nonprofit organization and will soon give a $650,000 grant to communities wishing to replicate the program. The organization will be accepting applications through March and recipients will be announced in April during Parkinson’s Awareness Month.

This is all in an effort to expand their services and awareness through Nebraska.

For more information on the Parkinson’s Voice Project, visit In order to reserve a seat for SPEAK Out®, visit or call Rehabilitative Services at 402-562-3333.


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