In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SpeechVive is making remote calibration software and training free for its medical device — also called SpeechVive — which aims to help people with Parkinson’s disease overcome speech problems.
“Approximately 89% of people with Parkinson’s disease will have speech issues. Access to SpeechVive for those patients will make a significant improvement in their quality of life,” Jessica Huber, PhD, the device’s developer and a professor and associate dean at Purdue University, said in a press release.
But such access has been impacted as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
“We’ve found that many people with Parkinson’s disease have delayed intervention for their speech during COVID-19 because the clinics are closed or have limited capacity to see patients as a social-distancing precaution,” said Ashleigh Lambert, vice president of clinical development at SpeechVive.
To improve access for the Parkinson’s community, SpeechVive is now helping make its device available remotely.
“We’re providing our software platform free-of-charge to clinicians and customers to access SpeechVive from their homes,” Lambert said. “We believe communication is more important now than ever for people with Parkinson’s and we are part of the solution.”
One of the speech issues common in people with Parkinson’s is hypophonia, or the tendency to speak abnormally softly. This usually results from impaired coordination in the muscles that are used for speech. But it makes it hard for patients to communicate, especially with caregivers.
“The SpeechVive device, which fits behind the patient’s ear, detects when a patient is speaking and elicits louder and clearer speech through an involuntary reflex known as the Lombard Effect,” Huber said.
The Lombard Effect is the tendency for people to speak more loudly when they are in noisy environments. Conceptually, the SpeechVive device works by simulating a noisy environment when there is none — basically playing “background noise” into a person’s ear to trigger the Lombard Effect.
In order to work effectively, the device needs to be calibrated for the given individual with Parkinson’s. This had required an in-person doctor’s visit. However, that requirement limited accessibility, particularly for people living in rural or remote areas.
“We would get calls from people in rural communities who had to travel over two hours each way to find a qualified clinician,” Huber said. “I wanted to make communication more accessible.”
That led Huber’s Purdue Motor Speech Lab to conduct a study to determine whether the SpeechVive device could be calibrated remotely. Results showed that remote calibration is just as effective as in-person calibration.
Meanwhile, the device’s accessibility issues were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the extent to which in-person events — including healthcare visits — can be safely conducted.
“In no way was a pandemic a reason we ever considered for use of our telehealth platform,” Lambert said.
Now, SpeechVive is partnering with speech-language pathologists and neurologists to provide training and remote device programming for people with Parkinson’s disease. The software and training are being made available to all speech-language pathologists and their patients, and to Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and veterans with Parkinson’s.
SpeechVive recently raised over $1.5 million to support efforts to increase the accessibility of its device.
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