New technology helps Parkinson's patients speak louder

By: Purdue University

Purdue University speech, language and hearing researcher, Jessica Hubert, has devoted her career to helping Parkinson's patients speak louder and articulate better. About 1.5 million people in the U.S. Have Parkinson's disease and it's one of the most common degenerative diseases of neurological origin. Speech problems are a big problem with Parkinson's disease in fact a study done in 1978 showed that about 89 percent of people with Parkinson's disease will eventually develop voice problems and about 45 percent will eventually develop problems with articulation or clarity. People with Parkinson's disease can speak louder; they can speak more clearly but often they need to be cued to do so, so you have to tell them to do it in some way.

The clink of glasses, soft music, clattering of silverware, people murmuring. Background noise causes us to automatically adjust the volume of our voices. This is known as the Lombard Effect, a reflex in which people automatically speak louder in the presence of background noise. Dr. Hubert came up with a device that helps Parkinson's patients speak louder. The device recreates a natural environmental cue to speak more loudly for the individual by introducing ambient noise into the patient's ear so the patient automatically speaks louder. The first device was built by Derek Tully and Scott Kepner, engineers in the speech language and hearing sciences department.

The design was improved and refined by engineers Jim Jones and Kirk Foster in the Purdue Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. Jim and Kirk built the prototype which was implemented with patients. They wear this, it goes on the throat and as they talk the vibration from their speech triggers this accelerometer and it converts it to an electrical signal that triggers the sound play. This is an open ear piece that is connected to a device by clear tubing and its placed in the ear and it's an open device so that they can still hear all the ambient sound around them and someone that's talking to them it doesn't block their hearing.

They don't realize they're not speaking loud enough and this helps them speak loud enough so and every social interaction is a little better, so they learn to like it. What we didn't expect how much their caregivers like it. Patient's often come in to clinics is because they think that everyone else can't hear. So their spouse has a hearing loss and they need to be tested for a hearing loss but really it's the person with Parkinson's disease not talking loud enough. The device is a way to remind them, it cues them outside of the therapy room to be louder. So they wear these when they go to church or play cards with their friends or have dinner with their spouse and all of these everyday activities that happen in our life become cues to talk louder and they get trained in their everyday life to talk louder. I was the first Parkinson's patient to use this device and really it's been very rewarding to use it, it sound just like all the people talking at a restaurant and you have a tendency...I don't know if you realize it but if you're in a crowd of people you have a tendency to raise your voice when you hear all this talking and all the noise.

New technology helps Parkinson's patients speak louder

If there's noise around you'll raise your voice automatically. The next step in making the device available for Parkinson's patients includes developing it through the Purdue research foundations, office of technology commercialization and continuing the research with patients in the university's Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences and the Department of Communication Disorders and Sciences at the University at Buffalo. Dr. Hubert's research group is planning to set up a satellite laboratory at the Rehabilitation Institute of Indianapolis as well. Funding for this project came from the NIH's National Institute for Deafness and other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health Support Indiana CTSI and a CAT grant to the Regenstrief Center for Health Care Engineering from the state of Indiana.

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