Saturday, August 30, 2008

A new treatment for stutterers?

Have a look at this interesting TED talk by Christopher deCharms. He adds a new way to change brain functions, neuroimaging therapy, to the traditional approaches of pschotherapy, pharmacology, and neuro-surgery. It is a bio-feedback mechanism: using real-time neuroimaging, the patient can see the brain activation as it happens and learn how to modify. Neuroimaging therapy is a novel concept which also promises to help people who stutter. And you heard the news first here, at TheStutteringBrain blog!

Fluency shaping therapies already use software to give stutterers feedback on their newly learned speech patterns like gentle onset. And, auditory feedback devices and recording phone calls are another biofeedback mechanism. We learn by seeing the results of our actions, and thereby learning to modify the actions.

Why not do the same with real-time neuroimaging? Imagine, you are sitting in an fMRI scanner and you are talking to your therapist at the same time. I am sure that after some practise you will see how the brain activates differently depending of whether you stutter or you speak fluently and controlling your tendency to stutter.Then, you can actively try to modify brain activation patterns. Intriguingly, you are focusing on normalised your brain function rather than normalising your speech, which must be more effective. Let me repeat: You are working on your true "internal" stuttering rather than modifying your speech caused by your "internal" stuttering.

Sure, the real-time is not as real-time as deCharms would like the method to be, and there is the noise of the scanner which might make practising difficult if not possible. However, I have no doubt that there will have silent workable real-time imaging systems, maybe in five years but definitely in ten years. Such a neuroimaging therapy is no quick-fix, but it would be much more effective way of changing behaviour, because you work on your internal issue and not use your external speech proxy as feedback.


O said...

Are you sure it is new ? I've read an article on modernmechanix site, talking about the same principle, applied by Orton himself in 1940

Tom Weidig said...

Hi Olivier,

in 1940? That is not possible. They didn't have brain imaging back then? Maybe EEG, but that is not precise at all.

Best wishes,

O said...

I think it was even before EEG.
But the patients were showned her results, that's why i said the 'prinicple' is the same...:-)