Credit: CEITEC

CEITEC: New Home Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease Significantly Improves Patients’ Speech

Neuroscientists at CEITEC, part of Masaryk University, have successfully tested a new therapy that combines home brain stimulation with online speech therapy support. This innovative method, using a portable stimulator and special speech therapy techniques, has shown significant improvements in speech difficulties associated with Parkinson’s disease. The researchers are now looking for volunteers suffering from the disease for the next phase of the project.

Some of the symptoms of the neurodegenerative disorder, such as tremors, can be significantly alleviated by medication, but other symptoms are not substantially affected by conventional drugs. One such symptom is problems with the volume and fluency of speech. Scientists at CEITEC have shown previously that it is possible to improve patients’ speech by using fast magnetic pulses (transcranial magnetic stimulation). The disadvantage of this non-invasive method, however, is that the stimulation cannot be carried out at home, and the patient must go to a specialised centre.

CEITEC’s Luboš Brabenec has therefore followed up this research with a new project, in which the main role is played by a small portable stimulator based on weak direct current. Patients involved in the research use this device in their home environment and combine the treatment with online speech therapy. This eliminates the often difficult commute, and allows patients from distant parts of the country to participate in the research.

“Handling the electrical stimulator is very simple and safe,” said Brabenec. “The researcher presets the intensity and duration of the stimulation in the device, and this therapy is complemented by work with a speech therapist, who has a special course focused on improving speech in Parkinson’s patients.”

The results of this innovative approach are assessed not only through speech therapy examination of patients, but also through acoustic analysis (in collaboration with the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Communication Technologies at Brno University of Technology) and analysis of MRI data. At this stage of the research, the researchers now have the first results indicating that the home therapy significantly improves patients’ speech problems. Subjective improvement is also seen by the study participants: “I used to work as a tour guide at the castle and my voice deteriorated significantly during my illness. Thanks to my participation in the study, I can speak loudly and clearly again,” said one patient.

The combination of speech therapy with non-invasive brain stimulation is a novelty in the world of neuroscience, and researchers at CEITEC are looking more broadly at improving the language and speech aspects of Parkinson’s disease. Brabenec’s colleague, Ľubomíra Nováková, is focusing on understanding more complex sentences and bringing research that has so far been conducted in English-speaking countries to the Czech environment. The Czech language environment has certain characteristics, such as flexible verb phrasing, which are difficult for Parkinson’s speakers to understand. 

“Our research will try to decipher the mechanisms underlying this ability,” explained Nováková, who will also work with a method of non-invasive brain stimulation in the home environment to try to improve these dysfunctions.

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