Research by Prof Anja Lowit and her team at Strathclyde University, Glasgow, studying the effectiveness of a new type of speech therapy for some progressive ataxias, has shown some promising results.
Evidence for the effectiveness of speech treatment to improve communication for people with ataxia is steadily increasing. Over the last 5 years, Prof Lowit and her team have contributed critical studies to this topic, testing different speech treatments for people with ataxia. In their first study, they found that extended Lee Silverman Voice Treatment Loud (LSVT-X Loud®), which has previously been shown to be beneficial for speech in those with Parkinson’s disease, had some benefits for people with ataxia. LSVT Loud® primarily aims to help people improve their speech volume. Participants in the study had improved voice quality and confidence in communicating. However, intelligibility did not show improvement. In the next study, they added a peer support element (ClearSpeechTogether), which enabled participants to practise in a group every day for 4 weeks. Intelligibility improved in almost everyone that took part, and communication confidence improved for all participants.
The researchers then carried out a trial of a new one-to-one approach called LSVT Artic® on 6 participants (5 with Friedreich’s ataxia and 1 with Spinocerebellar ataxia type 6), funded by Ataxia UK and LSVT Global who developed the LSVT programme. LSVT Artic® focuses more on articulation rather than a loud voice. About half of the speaker group had slower rates post-therapy, possibly indicating an effort to speak more clearly. This was reflected in some of the participants having higher intelligibility and naturalness ratings when reading. The most consistent improvements were again seen in the psycho-social measures. Confidence and communication participation rose significantly from pre- to post-therapy and was sustained over the 6-month follow-up period.
Whilst all these studies showed promise in some way, they were small studies involving few people, so it Is unlikely to give clear evidence of whether a therapy works or not. The researchers are now preparing to run a large-scale trial comparing the current group-based speech therapy method ClearSpeechTogether with another individual treatment approach to show whether speech therapy treatment is effective for people with ataxia, and whether one approach works better than others.
The researchers are currently recruiting for participants with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) for the next stage of the study, involving one-to-one online speech therapy over a period of 8 months. To find out how to take part, click here.
You can read more about the study here.