Word Play

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Researchers develop a computer game to rehabilitate speech in people with Parkinson disease.
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The interactive game (depicted above) provides visual feedback on speech, tracking progress and creating goals for players.

The ‘Tetris effect’ sounds like it was made up by children to manipulate parents into buying videogames. It describes how playing Tetris can train the brain to analyze shapes in relation to each other—with implications for real life skills used in fields like engineering.

TRI Senior Scientist Dr. Yana Yunusova has furthered this idea by showing that computer games can be used improve speech therapy.

Her research team evaluated the efficacy of a game for people with Parkinson disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that can impair the movement of muscles such as the lips or tongue, and cause slowed or slurred speech.

The interactive game works like this: the player says a sentence aloud, and the game responds by visually depicting the volume and clarity of the sentence—providing the player with feedback on the progress of their speech. For example, a dragon breathes fire for longer distances if sentences are spoken louder and clearer; a video of the game can be viewed here.

To test the effectiveness of the game, the team compared providing feedback traditionally (ie, using auditory cues) with feedback provided visually using the game. Study participants’ tongue movements were measured with sensors, which revealed that the participants’ range of tongue motion and articulation of words improved more than 200 per cent with the visual feedback provided by the game.

“This type of external visual feedback is already being used to treat other effects of Parkinson disease, such as impairments in walking or writing,” explains Dr. Yunusova. “Our study now adds speech rehabilitation to this list, and our future work will examine ways to create a novel treatment paradigm to help those with the disorder communicate better through speech.”

This work was supported by the Parkinson's Society of Canada; the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada; the Centre for Innovation in Information Visualization and Data-Driven Design; and the Toronto Rehab Foundation.

Yunusova Y, Kearney E, Kulkarni M, Haworth B, Baljko M, Faloutsos P. Game-based augmented visual feedback for enlarging speech movements in Parkinson's disease. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 2017 Jun 22. doi: 10.1044/2017_JSLHR-S-16-0233.