Speech Generating Devices for People with Parkinson’s

Emma, one of our Speech Pathologists, shares how people living with Parkinson’s disease can help reconnect with others through speech generating devices.

Emma has always been fascinated with language and communication, majoring in Ancient History and studying ancient languages for her Bachelor of Arts, before going on to study a Masters of Speech and Language Pathology at Macquarie University. “I fell in love with language and communication and how they can impact every facet of our society,” Emma shares.

While practicing as a Speech Pathologist, she found her passion in working with speech generating devices to support people living with Parkinson’s disease. As a progressive neurological disorder, Parkinson’s disease affects not only a person’s movement but also their speech. Over time, a person with Parkinson’s may experience language problems and changes in their voice and articulation.

According to Emma, this type of speech impairment can be extremely isolating, silencing the individual or excluding them from conversation with others. Speech generating devices, which allow the user to communicate through computer-generated or voice-recorded speech output, offer a way for a person living with Parkinson’s disease to express themselves clearly and efficiently, allowing them to reconnect with others.

How did speech generating devices and Parkinson’s disease become your passions?

I love that I can help reconnect people through prescribing speech generating devices. I’ve worked with many caseloads, but nothing beats that moment where you can give someone back their voice. One of the people I have worked with has early onset Parkinson’s disease and has a severe voice and speech impairment (dysarthrophonia). He was having difficulty communicating and needed speech therapy to help improve his intelligibility and speech. I helped him trial a speech generating device which he can use to communicate to people when they cannot understand him. We trialled it in a community environment, and he was able to communicate with a friend and ask about her about her plans.

A previous client of mine also loved to tell bad dad jokes, so it was one of the first things we loaded into his communication device when he received it!

Communication is a basic human right and it is at the core of every interaction we have with each other. When someone has difficulty communicating, it cuts them off from society in the most isolating way. If someone is unable to speak or be understood clearly, they are often excluded from conversations. Sometimes, if it’s too difficult to communicate with them, the effort to include them only happens with important decision-making conversations, and so they miss out on all the fun little comments we make during the day: a silly joke, or a passing remark that connects us socially.

Emma helped Vince, who has been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s, trial and eventually purchase a portable communication device (Lightwriter SL50).

How do you offer support to people with Parkinson’s disease using these devices?

It always comes down to how the person wants to use the device to communicate, and in what environment they will be using it. There are so many speech generating devices currently on the market that all have their benefits and disadvantages.

Trialling devices and multidisciplinary support

I would start by doing a comprehensive Speech Pathology assessment where I’d get to know the person’s communication goals and current strengths and weaknesses, then we’d trial a few different devices to see which is the best fit.

Once they have their device, I support them by helping to set up and personalise the device and provide any education to the individual and/or communication partners on the general maintenance and use of the device. Sometimes other health professionals like occupational therapists or physiotherapists need to be involved to help with positioning and posture while using the device.

What do you think will be the future of speech generating devices?

I think speech generating devices will become more commonplace and accessible in the future. There are already some great apps being developed for phones and tablets which mean you can now use your phone as a speech generating device! I’m hopeful the synthetic voices will become more natural sounding and less ‘Siri’- or ‘Alexa’-like. With technology advancing every day, I’m excited to see what comes out of this space in the future.

If you’re a Speech Pathologist who wants to learn more about speech generating devices, you’ll find incredible support from our team. Leave your details with us and let’s get your career MOVIN’!

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