Secondary Care

New voice banking software helps patients hold on to their speech

New technology which helps people with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) to continue to communicate by creating their own synthetic voice is being offered at Great Western Hospital.

MND is a rare, progressive condition which can affect the muscles of the mouth, throat and tongue, leading to problems with speech and voice. The hospital’s Speech and Language Team has introduced a dedicated laptop with specialised software to enable patients to bank their own voice before it deteriorates.

It allows a person with MND to record hundreds of phrases with their own voice, while they are still able to do so, with the recordings then converted to create a personal synthetic voice which can be used to generate an infinite number of words and sentences.

Speech and Language Therapist Lucie Spurway, who specialises in neurological conditions, said: “Losing our voice can often feel like we’re losing our identity, so we try to offer this to our MND patients as early as possible, if it is appropriate for them. The voice banking technology means that a patient can record words before communicating becomes difficult and, as the synthesised voice is based on their real voice, it can help to retain their sense of identity. Voice banking isn’t for everyone and we have to work with each individual to decide on the best plan for them. We look at many things including what the person does in their day and with who they need to communicate.”

“It took about 14 hours to record the 1,600 phrases, doing 100 to 200 at a time. It was hard, as my voice had already started to go. The system is user friendly and already proving useful if someone can’t quite understand me. I know it will be a great asset later on.”

Dr Graham Lennox, Consultant Neurologist, said: “Treatment options for MND are still very limited, so voice banking is one way we can work around the problems it can cause. When voice synthesisers were first introduced, you had the choice of a male or female voice. Now to have something that sounds like you is amazing. We’re very pleased to be able to offer such a high quality service at the Great Western Hospital and we’re very lucky to have such enthusiastic and expert staff like Lucie supporting our patients.

Voice banking is part of a range of augmentative and alternative communication systems used by the Speech and Language teams at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Picture and alphabet charts, gestures and pointing, as well as more complex hi-tech systems involving computer technology that are operated either directly by a keyboard or touchscreen, or via a switch or eye gaze, are also used by the team.