It is estimated that close to 10 millions people live with Parkinson’s disease. Close to 90 percent of these will face a condition known as hypokinetic dysarthria, which impair the volume, rate, and articulation of a person’s speech, making it difficult to be understood. This can contribute to depression and feelings of isolation, and consequently a significant reduction in quality of life. Unlike trunk and limb motor impairments in Parkinson’s disease, dysarthria typically do not respond well to pharmacological or surgical interventions. As a result, behavioral treatments that aim to reduce or compensate for the speech deficits are often considered the best treatment option.
The Indianapolis-based startup SpeechVive is committed to giving Parkinson’s disease patients their voice back, and improve quality of life. They have developed a device that fit into patients’ ear like a hearing aid, and is able to detect when a patient is speaking using a built-in accelerometer. The device play a background sound into the user’s ear when they speak, resembling a room full of people, which elicit a louder and clearer speech through an involuntary reflex known as the Lombard Effect. When the patient is not speaking the background sound is turned off, enhancing the ability to hear and communicate effectively.
SpeechVive is designed to elicit improved speech clarity without placing cognitive demand on the patient. A 39 patient clinical trial demonstrated that 75% of the participants received at least a 2.5 dB increase immediately, and 90% of the participants had better speech, volume, clarity and rate by the end of the 8-week treatment period.
The device is based on research by Jessica Huber, a professor at Purdue University, who has worked with people with Parkinson’s for over a decade. While the ideas behind the technology is so simple, the device is equally innovative. It is built on a unique and amazing understanding of Parkinson’s disease, how the disease progress, the patients and the psychosocial effects of hypokinetic dysarthria. SpeechVive does not require any training or behavioral modification, and immediately improve speech, to potentially transform the lives of millions who live with Parkinson’s and dysarthria.
SpeechVive has previously received $2.25 million from the National Institute of Health, as well as $700,000 from Indiana-based investment firm Ambassador Enterprises and $1 million from Purdue Research Foundation. They recently announced they had received another $1.3 million from the NIH and $975,000 from BioCrossroads’ Indiana Seed Fund II, the Purdue Foundry, and a private investor. The startup plans to design and build a software platform that will allow speech pathologists to program the company’s devices remotely, helping patients who cannot travel to the pathologists.