6 tools to improve speech in people with Parkinson’s


Author: John DeanPublished: 5 December 2019

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Speech pathologist John Dean

John Dean is a US speech-language pathologist who specialises in helping people with Parkinson’s to communicate. He shares a list of essential tools and tips to improve your day-to-day interactions – from smart speakers to tailored apps, earpieces and more

1. Smart Speakers

Emerging voice-led technologies or “smart speakers” like the Amazon Alexa and Google Home, as well as those built into most smartphones, provide a unique opportunity for people living with Parkinson’s. Not only do they make your day-to-day life easier, they also provide a reminder to use a nice clear voice at different points throughout the day while at home. You can use your voice to set alarms to remind you to take medication.

2. Speech therapy apps

There are a handful of Parkinson’s-specific apps ideal for voice practice on the go. Some of my favourites include the early classic ‘Speak up for Parkinson’s’ – which measures your speech using a sound level meter and video recording features. 

Voice Trainer is a useful app. It provides visual feedback on the volume and pitch of your voice during conversation, helping you to see which aspect should be adjusted and by how much. 

If you are dealing with issues with stuttering or rapid, unintelligible speech, it may be worth experimenting with a Delayed Auditory Feedback app. It introduces a slightly delayed recording of your speech into your ear; and the feedback loop causes you to slow down and speak more clearly.

Pacing board apps use visual cues for the speaker to tap in order to help them speak at the right pace. There are many apps available for smart phones, but simple paper versions are often just as effective. 

3. Personal amplifiers

Using a personal microphone and speaker can be helpful in loud or hectic group settings like holiday meals, weddings and family events. Simply placing a speaker connected to a headset microphone on the table during a meal can be enough to bring you back into the conversation with your friends and family. 

A typical setup includes a speaker that’s about the size of a paperback book with a built-in rechargeable battery. There are a number of affordable options on Amazon and similar sites. You can also ask your speech-language pathologist if they have one for you to try out. 

4. In-ear technology

SpeechVive is a tool that fits in the ear like telephone earpiece. It takes advantage of a reflex called the “Lombard effect” in order to cue the speaker to increase his or her volume. It’s the same natural reflex that causes you to raise your voice and speak louder in a noisy environment such as a restaurant. 

5. Headphones

If you are having issues on the phone, a simple fix is using a pair of headphones with a microphone when on calls. This will allow you to move the microphone directly in front of your mouth, meaning you will be louder with far less effort. 

6. Video calling platforms

The ability to see someone’s face and make eye-contact while having a conversation can significantly improve overall communication. There are a range of free services that can support a video call, with WhatsApp and Facebook messenger being two of the most common. These programmes work best with a pair of headphones to minimise feedback sounds during the conversation and improve speaking volume.

Read more:

Providing free speech therapy for New York’s Parkinson’s community

6 tips for improving speech in Parkinson’s

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