A large percentage of patients with Parkinson’s speak quieter and less clearly as the disease cycle progresses. Typically, speech therapy has been used to overcome this change by teaching people to remember to speak louder. Now researchers at Purdue University have created a device that uses our natural reflex to bring up the speaking volume in noisy environments in an attempt to help Parkinson’s sufferers to adjust to everyday settings. Essentially, the system consists of an accelerometer, placed on the neck, that detects when the person is talking and an unobtrusive ear piece that then plays a sound similar to a restaurant full of people (minus the sound of forks, knives, and plates). Since this technology uses the unconscious response to a loud environment, it does not require an active involvement by the patient.
Six patients wore the portable system for eight weeks. Data collected showed the system effectively prompts Parkinson’s patients to speak louder and more clearly.
“Their speech changes significantly,” said Huber, who is working with Meghan Darling, a doctoral student in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. “There have been times where I have called patients and they’ve had the device on and I didn’t really recognize them. And these are patients I’ve known for a long time. This is beneficial also because it trains them in their everyday environment – in their homes, with their spouses, in their churches, in their social groups.”
Huber determined the system works by measuring how much louder patients talked while on the device and without the device after eight weeks of training.
The researchers also are interested in examining the physiological changes elicited by the device. Patients wear a mask and sensors in elastic bands placed around the rib cage to precisely recording respiratory, laryngeal and articulatory data.
“We know the lung volume, and we know the pressure and the airflow they generate during speech, which tells us not only whether they are talking louder but how they are talking louder,” Huber said. “For example, maybe they are using solely the respiratory system to get louder, or maybe it’s all about the larynx.”
The researchers also will test how well the system works by having people who are not speech pathologists listen to the patients pronouncing words that could be easily confused with other words.
Press release: New technology helps Parkinson’s patients speak louder …