University app will help people communicate

RESEARCH An app for people with Parkinson's is being developed
RESEARCH An app for people with Parkinson's is being developed

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PEOPLE with Parkinson’s might regain their confidence in communicating thanks to mobile phone apps being developed by scientists at the University of Portsmouth.

A team led by Dr Roger Eglin hopes to develop two mobile phone apps to assist thousands of people with Parkinson’s to improve their speech and allow them to be better understood by their family, friends and healthcare workers.

The charity Parkinson’s UK has awarded a grant of £35,000 to Dr Eglin, of the university’s Department of Creative Technologies, to run the year-long project.

Speech problems affect nearly 75 per cent of the 120,000 people with Parkinson’s in the UK.

Dr Eglin explained that problems communicating can have a profound impact on quality of life.

He said: ‘Many people with Parkinson’s already have and use mobile phones, making them a low-cost, simple and effective way for helping people improve their own speech.

‘We’ve already developed a basic mobile phone application to improve speech, but it needs to be further improved and tailored specifically for people with Parkinson’s.

‘We will be testing our application with people with Parkinson’s at every stage of development to make sure it is effective and easy to use.’

Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and innovation at Parkinson’s UK, said: ‘We’re delighted to be funding Dr Eglin’s new research.

‘Speech problems affect around 70 per cent of people with Parkinson’s. This can make everyday things much more difficult, and can have a profound impact on their quality of life.

‘Speech therapy can help, but speech therapists have limited time and resources, so simple mobile phone applications that people can use in their everyday life offer exciting potential to help tackle speech problems. This is just the kind of innovative research we’re keen to support.’

One of the key functions of the apps will be a feedback meter which will help people see how loud their speech is compared to background noise and indicate what adjustment is required to be heard properly. Another is a voice training function to encourage people to speak more loudly, which can make them easier to understand.

Such apps would be used by health professionals to monitor progress remotely, making speech therapy cheaper and more accessible for those with Parkinson’s.

Dr Eglin said: ‘If we’re successful, we hope to develop useful mobile phone-based applications which can help people with Parkinson’s who experience speech difficulties – helping them to communicate better with their families and friends and increase their confidence in social situations.’