Weldon Researchers Collaborate to Benefit Parkinson's Patients

Jessica Huber (left) and a graduate student researcher
Jessica Huber (left) works with a graduate student in her lab.
Kirk Foster and Jim Jones, veterans of the Weldon research staff, as well as Professor George Wodicka, and graduate students Matias Zanartu and Julio Ho have successfully collaborated with Jessica Huber, Associate Professor of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at Purdue to make an impact in speech therapy for Parkinson's patients.

Parkinson's patients commonly have voice and speech problems which manifest in a tendency to speak too quietly. The team has developed a new technology that helps Parkinson's patients overcome this tendency by playing a recording of ambient sound, which resembles the noisy chatter of a restaurant full of patrons. This ambient sound  (or "multitalker babble noise") elicits a well-known phenomenon called the Lombard effect - a reflex in which people automatically speak louder in the presence of background sound.

The collaborative team has created, built and is currently testing a voice-activated device that automatically senses when the patient begins to speak, and plays the background babble through an earpiece. The voice-detection sensor, which is placed on the neck, is a key component of the device. It was developed by Wodicka, Zanartu and Ho, and built by Jones and Foster. The original test group consisted of six patients, who wore the device for eight weeks. Based on the data collected, the group has expanded to include patients at the Rehabilitation Institute of Indianapolis.

Further research, under the direction of Professor Huber, will determine whether the device is an effective training tool, enabling patients to speak louder even when they are not wearing the device. Also, the system might be further developed to use rechargeable batteries. The research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health. Purdue has filed a provisional patent on the concept.

To participate in future studies, or for additional information, contact Professor Huber at 765-494-3796 or jhuber@purdue.edu