Device that looks like a hearing aid makes speech more understandable

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Imagine speaking, but not being understood. That can result in frustration and withdrawal from others. A tiny device is making a big difference for a St. Joseph man.

Chris Black says his South African accent has always made it harder for Americans to understand him since moving here in the early '90s.

"But certainly the Parkinson's didn't do any favors," said Black.

Parkinson's Disease makes speech harder for him and most others with the disease, says his speech-language pathologist at Saint Luke's Hospital.

"It sounds like they're running all their words together and mumbling," Evelyn Otsuka-Davis said.

Black added, "Certainly you isolate yourself much more."

A little over a month ago, Black had a little device called SpeechEasyPD placed in his ear. It looks like a hearing aid, but instead provides altered auditory feed.

"They hear themselves with a little bit of a delay so it's kinda like an echo and at a higher pitch," Otsuka-Davis said.

It's similar to what someone hears when singing or speaking at a stadium. The feedback causes someone with Parkinson's to slow down.

"They can speak louder and they can speak more clearly,"  the speech-language pathologist.

It's made a difference for Black.

"I'm able to converse a lot easier," he said.

Black was one of 10 patients in the country selected to receive the device free. It ordinarily costs $4,500 and insurance doesn't cover it.

SpeechEasy was first developed about 15 years ago for people who stutter. Otsuka-Davis says it's shown great benefit in some of them.