Voice Amplifiers Help People with MS Speak Louder, Reduce Fatigue
By Ellen Kampel & John Williams
It's the end of a long day for Ethel Holzer and Tom Jaspers. They are both fatigued and thankful for their voice amplifiers. Some people with MS have weakness in their respiratory muscles (i.e. muscles for breathing) which results in decreased vocal intensity (loudness). This weakness results in decreased breath support, which powers one's speech.
Battery powered voice amplifiers magnify the volume of an individual's voice by speaking into a microphone that can be placed near a person's vocal cords or lips. This amplification allows individuals with MS to communicate on the phone, in groups, noisy environments, across the room or in the community. It allows for more independence with communication while minimizing the amount of muscular effort necessary to produce loud speech.
Voice amplifiers are hand held devices that are useful to anyone with a weak voice or a throat problem such as: vocal nodules, Parkinson's, MS, damaged or partially paralyzed vocal cords and diminished lung capacity.
Tom Jaspers places the amplifier near his vocal cords and says, "I'd like to watch the championship fight tonight." His son nods in agreement.
Putting the amplifier to her lips, Holzer tells her personal care attendant, "I need to go into the other room." She assists her.
In 1984, Jaspers was diagnosed with MS. Since then, he says he has dealt with MS as positively as he can. He says he has primary-progressive characteristics of MS.
Ethel Holzer was diagnosed with MS in 1982. She said it has become progressively worse.
Over the years, the two have struggled with temporary periodic vision lapses, cognitive dysfunction, mobility loss, depression, dexterity challenges and decreased breath support. Four years ago, Holzer and Jaspers were introduced to voice amplification products. The technology has since changed their lives.
According to Tara Chay, MA CCC-SLP, speech language pathology clinical specialist, University of Minnesota Medical Center, Minneapolis, MN," Personal voice amplification systems are available to allow individuals with MS to produce adequately-loud speech."
Because they do not want to draw attention to their weak voices, Jasper and Holzer use their voice amplifiers only when necessary and do so in the privacy of their homes.
Holzer was introduced to a voice amplifier by her son-in-law, a pharmaceutical employee. "I knew from time to time that Mom needed to amplify her voice, and so I thought this technology would help her," said Thomas Edwards.
He also introduced his mom to voice-activated telephones to help with the vision and dexterity challenges she experiences. "Since my eyes and hands aren't as good anymore as they were, the voice activated telephone is a blessing," Holzer adds. She says a name into the phone and it dials the number. Even though it produces an echo she always uses her amplifier when speaking on the phone.
Holzer purchased her voice amplifier with assistance from Medicare. She paid almost $200 for it.
Jaspers says, "My niece, a speech pathologist, told me about voice amplifiers and text-to-speech products." He bought his amplifier himself and paid $300.
Being an adventurer, Jaspers tried text-to-voice technology for more than a year. This technology provides a digital voice to words typed using a keyboard.
"I used it when my voice was weak. However, it took so long to type what I wanted to say that I felt as though I was a drag on the conversation," Jasper said.
Jasper also uses a puff-n-sip phone which is operated by a puff or sip into a mouthpiece that he wears.
Tom Lennox, founder of Luminaud, one of the country's leading manufacturers of voice amplifiers says, "Having relatives with MS research the benefits of voice amplifiers is common. More than a dozen people saying they are relatives with MS have called in the last two months looking for information on voice amplifiers."
According to Pat Bednarik, MS, CCC-SLP, MSCS, University of Pittsburgh, "Individuals with MS can experience temporary voice impairments, including decreased vocal intensity, when they have an infection or MS exacerbation."
These temporary impairments often resolve when the individual with MS recovers from the infection or exacerbation. More often, individuals display a gradual decline in their vocal intensity and ability to functionally communicate. For these individuals, implementation of a personal voice amplifier to compensate for their voice impairment and manage their level of fatigue may be appropriate.
Voice amplifiers can fit any budget and Bednarik recommends that people try the least expensive technology first. Voice amplifiers range from $200-to-$600. Amplifiers weigh less than 10 ounces and are accompanied by a battery pack.
Holzer and Jasper are grateful for their voice amplifiers saying it minimizes their overall strain and fatigue when their MS makes talking a tiring effort. Jasper says, "This phone and other technology help me stay connected to the world. I am achieving independence through technology."
Ellen Kampel is the public affairs manager for the Accessibility Business Unit at Microsoft. John M. Williams has been writing about disability issues since 1978 and coined the phrase "Assistive Technology".