Touching Lives - June 2005
New hope for treating speech disorders
Dysarthria is associated with poor control of the speech muscles and causes speech to be slurred, indistinct or unintelligible. Making improvements requires persistent and intensive practise which is currently done at home without any supervision or feedback on progress.
Computers can provide a variety of practise tasks and give feedback on performance, and it has been recognised that they could be applied as a home practise tool for patients. Thanks to funding of more than £126,000 from Action Medical Research, a team of researchers at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol and Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital have investigated the benefits of computers as a home-based tool for people with dysarthria.
The three-year project, headed by Dr Brian Petheram, has resulted in a pioneering new computer system that allows people with dysarthria to practise speech exercises. The system aims to help people slow down their speech, thus making it more intelligible. The speed of their speech is measured and recordings of their voice are played back, helping patients to learn from mistakes. Eight dysarthria sufferers used the system at home for four weeks and all managed to reduce their rate of speech. Even those with no previous computing experience were able to use the system. This innovative approach to treating dysarthria shows that speech rate reduction can be achieved by practising with the computer system. The work also opens up the possibility of using computers for tackling other types of speech problems.
Dr Petheram says, “With the help of Action Medical Research, we have pioneered a system which people with dysarthria can use to change aspects of their own speech to become more intelligible to others.”