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New method helps Parkinson’s patients speak normally


Washington : A simple new method can help Parkinson’s patients speak normally.

“People with Parkinson’s… commonly have voice and speech problems,” said Jessica Huber, associate professor at Purdue University’s speech, language and hearing sciences department, who has developed the method.

“A major therapy is to get people to speak louder, which also may cause them to articulate more clearly,” Huber said.

The most common therapy, the Lee Silverman voice treatment programme, trains patients to speak louder in one-hour sessions four days a week for a month.

“Some Parkinson’s patients do great with this approach, but others do not,” Huber said. “They forget to keep speaking louder the minute they have left the therapy room.”

“So I wanted to know whether there was an easier way to cue people during therapy.” Huber used a new approach: The patients were asked to speak louder while a recording of background “multitalker babble noise” was played.

The noise is essentially the sound of a restaurant full of patrons, but without the clattering silverware and clinking glasses.

“They had an easier time getting louder when I had the noise in the room,” she said. “Ordinarily, when I asked them to be twice as loud they would say they couldn’t. They couldn’t speak 10 decibels louder, but when I turned on the babble noise, they spoke over 10 decibels louder.”

The background sound elicits a well-known phenomenon called the Lombard effect, a reflex in which people automatically speak louder in the presence of background sound.

Huber created a new electronic technology using this principle. The voice-activated device automatically plays the background babble when the person begins to speak, said a Purdue release.

A sensor placed on the neck detects that the person has begun to speak and tells the device to play the babble through an earpiece worn by the patient.