Developing computer games for speech therapy

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Parkinson's disease can impair the movement of muscles such as the lips or tongue, and cause slowed or slurred speech.

A research team led by Toronto Rehab Senior Scientist Dr. Yana Yunusova is studying the novel use of computer games to improve speech therapy for Parkinson’s patients. Expanding on the idea of the ‘Tetris effect’ – describing how playing the 1980s video game can train the brain to analyse shapes in relation to each other – a new interactive game provides visual feedback on speech, tracks progress and creates goals for players.

When the player says a sentence aloud 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 (shown in photo). 

In the study, visual feedback using the game was compared to the traditional use of auditory cues. Tongue movements were measured with sensors, revealing that the participants' range of tongue motion and articulation of words improved more than 200 per cent when the game was used.

"This type of external visual feedback is already being used to treat other effects of Parkinson's 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."

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