The sound of their voices can be a bit weaker and quieter sounding, maybe breathier, like a whisper. They may talk quickly, or possibly have slurred articulation.
Those are terms Purdue University Professor of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, Jessica Huber, used to describe people with Parkinson’s disease and their speech.
“A lot of them get really frustrated, and often withdraw socially from their friends and family,” she said. “They just feel like they can’t get their message across.”
After spending time with patients Huber was inspired to create a device to help them get a little piece of themselves back.
SpeechVive, is a simple wearable device that goes on the ear, and helps people with Parkinson’s disease speak more loudly and communicate more effectively.
She said to create the device they looked at cueing methods, one in particular was noise and the environment.
“We know that noise elicits something called the Lombard effect, which is basically a reflex we all have when we’re in a noisy environment,” Huber said. “We talk louder, slower, and more clearly.”
Those are the three major areas that she sees people with Parkinson’s struggle with.
“What I needed was a cue for life,” she continued. “I was thinking like, if they could walk around with this, kind of, bubble of noise that only they heard when they were talking it would help them communicate better.”
So, that’s what the device does. It plays some noise in the person’s ear only when they’re talking, and turns off when they stop talking. She said it automatically causes patients to talk louder, and overtime they begin to talk slower and more clearly.
She said spouses and family members have thanked her for bringing their husband or wife back.
“I could tell he was funny before he had the device on, but as he used the device his personality just shown out.” she said about one patient. “Patients have told me that their kids think they sound great, that they can read to their grandkids now.”
When she gives someone the device, her advice is to watch the spouse.
“Because, watching the spouse eyes light up when they hear the person’s voice on the device, to hear what they used to sound like is really rewarding.”
In the future she hopes they can develop SpeechVive further so it can provide patients with data on how they’re doing, how much they’re talking, and how well they’re talking to keep them motivated on using the device.