Wired up for words

February 3, 1995

Stroke victims, patients with neurological conditions, and people with cleft palates often need speech therapy. But often neither the therapist nor the client can identify the exact position of the tongue during speech.

Electronic engineers at the University of Kent at Canterbury are now working with speech therapists, plastic surgeons and volunteer patients in a two-year study to compare conventional speech therapy with the relatively new technique of electropalatography.

Patients are fitted with a custom-made artificial palate with electrodes in it connected to a computer. As the tongue comes into contact with the palate, the patterns it makes are shown on a grid on the screen.

Since most speech sounds have a distinctive shape, errors can be spotted, and patients helped to change their tongue position. The speech therapist can also wear an artificial palate, creating a pattern on the computer for the patient to follow.

The researchers are also investigating the use of an artificial palate when the patient's own soft palate loses its ability to close, which can happen after a stroke. The false palate includes a small loop of wire which just touches the soft palate, "kick-starting" it into use, and prompting the brain to learn or relearn how to do this.

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