Page last updated at 02:33 GMT, Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Echo earpiece to help stammerers

Natalie Riley
Natalie has regained her confidence after using the device

An earpiece which helps people with a stammer is being rolled out in the north of England.

The device, which is not yet available on the NHS but is being used by doctors in Greater Manchester, sends out an echo of the users voice as they speak.

This "choral effect" tricks the brain into thinking there is another person speaking in unison with the stammerer, unblocking the impediment.

The British Stammering Association is also piloting a similar device.

Stammering affects 1% of the UK adult population and involves a breakdown in the coordination of the processes required for speech.

Hearing someone speak more fluently is tremendously satisfying for all concerned
Peter Jones, BMI The Alexandra Hospital

The device, which fits into the ear, plays the users voice back with a 60-100 millisecond delay and at a higher pitch.

It sounds like a second voice in the ear and the principle came from the observation that some stammerers find they can easily sing along with other people or that their stammer is not as bad when there's a lot of people talking in a room.

Confidence

Natalie Riley, aged 11, from Blackburn is one of the first people to be fitted with the device and has been using it for a few months.

Speech therapy had not worked for her.

Now at secondary school, Natalie has become the model pupil, even winning an award for drama.

Her mother, Lindsey Riley, said it was devastating to watch her become so withdrawn at primary school.

"In order to improve her quality of life, it was crucial that we did something before she attended secondary school.

"It has given her so much confidence and she is now a very popular pupil at her school."

Doctors in the hearing centre at BMI The Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle are using the SpeechEasy implant which costs about 3,000.

A similar device called VoiceAmp is currently being trialled by members of the British Stammering Association and costs about 1,250.

Usually, anyone who has a serious stammer is offered speech therapy.

Peter Jones, clinical physiologist at the hearing centre at BMI The Alexandra Hospital hearing centre in Cheadle said the device was not a cure but could help people with everyday tasks.

"It is amazing to see the improvement that some people make with this device and the reaction of their families.

"Hearing someone speak more fluently is tremendously satisfying for all concerned."

He said they had about 15 patients on it so far.

Norbert Lieckfeldt, chief executive of the British Stammering Association said such devices were helpful to some people.

"There's no approach that will help everyone.

"We have been trialling a similar device and it doesn't work at all for some people but it is useful for others.

"It should be available on the NHS. You can have a 30 day trial and in that time you should know whether this will be helpful for you."

He added the Association were also looking into the possibility of funding the devices for working adults through Access to Work.



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