ALS voice banking

ALS Voice Banking

One of the associated symptoms of ALS is slurred speech and the eventual inability to speak at all. Assistive technology, in the form of speech-generating devices, can be invaluable once someone loses the ability to form words. Recording the individual’s natural voice before this happens can make a huge difference when communicating with friends and family. 

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a debilitating disease that progressively destroys the nerves and causes a range of symptoms, including paralysis and loss of sensation. One other symptom associated with ALS is slurred speech.

Here we take a closer look at this particular symptom of ALS and why voice banking can be a good idea following diagnosis.

How Speech is Affected By ALS

A key factor in ALS is that, although nerve damage may start in a localised area such as the hands or fingers, it spreads to other parts of the body. Nerves will become damaged and eventually die off, impairing the signals that are sent to the area affected.

Speech can become difficult when the bulbar nerves are damaged. These nerves carry signals from the brain to the muscles involved in speech and control things like the lips, tongue, soft palate and the voice box. To create a sound, fine muscle control is essential and once this begins to degrade it leads to issues such as slurred speech.

This is often an initial signal that someone may have ALS and there can be a number of different features that are a cause for concern. Someone may speak normally during the morning but gradually slur their speech as the day moves on and they get more tired. Lung capacity and breathing, if it is affected by nerve damage, can also be an issue.

ALS is progressive and the nerve damage gets gradually worse over time. Slurred speech can finally evolve into a lack of ability to speak at all.

Speech Generating Devices

Stephen Hawking used a speech generating device to communicate

Communication is an important part of our daily lives. Suddenly being unable to form even the simplest words can have a huge impact on the individual.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this issue. Many of us are familiar with voice generating devices because of one well-known person who suffered from ALS.

Professor Stephen Hawking lived with the disease from his early twenties. As his ALS progressed, he not only became paralysed but also lost the ability to speak. Hawking’s computerised voice is now iconic even though he is no longer with us. He achieved this by using a speech-generating device.

There are various different devices and software that have been developed to help those who are unable to communicate effectively. The simplest speech-generating device is one where the individual types words onto a keyboard and this is then translated into speech. As movement becomes increasing limited and paralysis takes hold due to the progression of ALS, it may eventually be impossible for the affected individual to type.

Text to speech equipment can use a variety of cues to transmit someone’s voice, including eye movement. This is an area that has constantly been developed since the early days when it first began to be used in the 1970s.

Voice Banking

It can be difficult to think ahead when it comes to a disease such as ALS. Things which may seem fine at one moment, can quickly get worse over time. Considering how an individual will communicate in the future, after their ability to speak has diminished, is important.

Voice banking is one solution that can make a huge difference to those with ALS. Most of us would immediately recognise the voice of Stephen Hawking when we heard it on the TV. However, this was obviously not the scientist’s actual voice.

The idea of voice banking is that an individual begins to record their natural voice prior to them losing the ability to speak. These recordings can then be used when a speech-generating device finally needs to be used.

Our voice is actually a pretty important part of our sense of self and personality. The process of voice banking involves recording common phrases and words that a person might use in their general conversation. There are various software and devices that allow those with ALS to do this and build up a store that can then be used once speech-generating devices are needed.

This might seem like a small thing when someone is getting over the initial diagnosis and are coping with the first stages of ALS. It’s often difficult to think forward about those later stages when the situation gets even worse.

Individuals with ALS usually work with their speech therapist to build up a voice bank that they can use at a later date. Whilst it can be difficult to comprehend the loss of a voice, banking can make a significant difference to a person’s sense of wellbeing as the disease becomes more challenging to cope with.