A reflection on technological advancement for voice preservation for progressive neurological conditions

A reflection on technological advancement for voice preservation for progressive neurological conditions

As a speech pathologist who has worked with people with progressive neurological conditions for many years, it’s mind-blowing to see how advances in technology can improve the support we can provide.

Changes to speech in progressive neurological conditions:

A common and difficult experience for people who have motor neurone disease (MND), Parkinson’s Disease (PD) or Huntington’s Disease (HD) can be changes to and the loss of speech. Changes can be mild or severe but even mild changes can have a drastic effect on communication and interactions.

Voice preservation and AAC:

Preserving the voice to be used at a later stage in conjunction with an augmentative and alternative communication device (AAC) can be an important strategy in planning for potential future changes. We sometimes need to use AAC when communication is very difficult, using a device that will ‘speak’ for a client. When AAC is used though, computerised voices can lack tone, emotion and personalised connection. By creating a saved ‘electronic copy’ of their voice, clients can keep this for the future in case it’s needed.

While electronic voices have improved significantly over the years, research shows that the voice of loved ones carries special meaning and leads to emotional connection. Given this, it’s not hard to see the benefits of having a more personalised voice when using AAC.

Types of Voice Preservation

  • Voice Banking: This uses a program that records a number of phrases and creates a synthesized version of the individual’s voice. This voice can be used to say any phrase that can be thought of.
  • Message Banking: Message banking involves the storage of more personalised and commonly used phrases. These can be saved as phrases in an AAC device for later usage.

Technological Advances:

In the early days of voice and message banking, clients were required to sit for a number of days, recording well over 1000 phrases to create a personalised voice. This was at times arduous and fatiguing for clients who had busy lives and other challenges they were dealing with.

Technology has come leaps and bounds though and now voice banking can be done in around half an hour, recording only 30 phrases. This gives us the freedom to trial a few programs if required, and importantly it gives the client back the time that this would take.

Message banking can now be done on web-based programs which will save recorded phrases to keep for later, even transcribing them in typed text.

Further developments are being made by mainstream companies including Apple to allow clients to preserve their voice.

As a clinician, I’m excited to see what the future of voice preservation will offer in allowing clients to communicate using AAC in their own voice. I look forward to continuing to support clients to engage with this technology and the benefits it brings.