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Voice-assisted tech giving voice to people living with Parkinson’s disease

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Voice-assisted tech giving voice to people living with Parkinson's disease

Voice-assisted tech giving voice to people living with Parkinson’s disease

Monash University research has found voice-assisted technologies are able to support people with speech difficulties, such as Parkinson’s disease, and could enhance early speech and language therapies.

In 2018, over 1.35 million Australian households owned a smart speaker like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. While these technologies are primarily being used for general household tasks like streaming music, checking the weather forecast and setting alarms or reminders, new research has identified how these voice-assisted technologies can have additional uses for people with speech impairment.

A collaboration project by researchers at Monash University and Ulster University, this study is the first of its kind to explore the experiences of using voice-assisted technologies by people with speech impairment.

Of the 290 participants from the UK living with Parkinson’s disease who took part in the online survey, the key findings were:

    • 90% owned a voice-assisted device
    • 71% used it regularly
    • 31% used the technology specifically to address the needs associated with their Parkinson’s disease
    • Of these users, 55% sometimes, rarely, or never had to repeat themselves when using the technology and when asked about speech changes since they started using it, 25% of participants noticed having to repeat themselves less and 15% perceived their speech to be clearer

There are over six million people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease worldwide and it’s currently the fastest growing neurological disease. Difficulties with speech occur in 90% of people with Parkinson’s disease, warranting a need for alternative methods of communication support.

Senior Lecturer in the Department of Human Centred Computing in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University, Dr Roisin McNaney, says the study demonstrates how these devices can help support future speech and language therapy outcomes.

“Early speech and language therapy intervention is important in addressing communication
issues related to Parkinson’s disease, however, only 59% of people living with Parkinson’s disease in Australia have regular contact with a therapist,” she said.

“The limited access to clinical services and speech therapies is a major concern and one that we hope to address through this research.

“By presenting our initial findings of how voice-assisted technologies can support speech and language therapy outcomes for people with Parkinson’s disease, we hope that we can encourage the future use of voice-assisted technologies by speech and language therapists in clinical settings to support patients.”

Low volume and reduced clarity are major symptoms of voice impairment in Parkinson’s disease and are routinely targeted in speech therapy. We had comments from participants during this study which directly indicated positive speaking behaviours from using the technology, such as “speaking slowly and clearly” and “talking louder” in order to ensure they are understood by the device. When asked what they would do if Alexa did not understand them, one participant simply said, “I’ll try again, a bit louder, until she understands me’.”

Dr Orla Duffy, Lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy at Ulster University, says voice-assisted technologies can offer long term benefits to people living with Parkinson’s disease.

“Voice-assisted technology has been embraced by many people and households, from both a general day-to-day perspective but also now, as we have seen from the research, in the form of assisting people with speech difficulties. Voice-assisted technologies now have the capability to support future therapies and act as useful tools for speech and language therapists, with the added benefit of already being present in the patient’s home,” said Dr Duffy.

While further research is needed to trial out-of-the-box voice-assisted technologies for speech and communication difficulties in people with Parkinson’s disease, the researchers hope that this study and its findings are a step in the right direction.

To find out more information about this project, please visit: https://rehab.jmir.org/2021/1/e23006

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Time for action on a NSW Autism Strategy

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Time for action on a NSW Autism Strategy

 

STATE Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin says she welcomes the Australian Government’s recent release of the Draft NSW Autism Strategy.

Ms Saffin says “it provides the State and Territory governments with the opportunity to engage with the Draft National Autism Strategy.

“We need a NSW Autism Strategy and I have had discussions with the relevant Minister in the Minns Labor Government, Kate Washington,” Ms Saffin says.

“I raised the importance of an autism strategy in the NSW Parliament last year. South Australia is way ahead of us.  Now we have the Draft National Autism Strategy, we need to seize the momentum and get a New South Wales strategy to break down barriers for autistic children and adults and their families.”

President of the Northern Rivers Autism Association Micheal Lynch has teamed up with Business NSW Northern Rivers Regional Director Jane Laverty to co-host an Autism@Work business luncheon at the Ballina RSL Auditorium from noon today (Tuesday, 9 April).

The event, titled Embracing a Neurodiverse Workforce, celebrates Autism Awareness Month and guest speaker will be former dual-code international for rugby league and rugby union Mat Rogers.

Ms Saffin says she will be an apology as she is recovering from Covid.

“A panel of speakers for today’s event is sure to discuss the Draft National Autism Strategy,” Ms Saffin says.

“It is clear from the draft that the states and territories and Federal Government need to work together because the strategy covers polices across both levels of government.

“The states have primary responsibility for the key areas of education, health, justice and housing.

“It is the states that have responsibility for pre-schools for example, where children are at critical age for early intervention which can make a huge difference.

“This is an opportunity for National Cabinet to tackle the crossover of responsibilities and ensure that this is an effective, properly funded strategy without gaps for people to slip through.

“Being in a rural or regional area can add another layer of disadvantage, so it is important that people from this region give their feedback to the national strategy.”

For more information on the Draft National Autism Strategy and to give feedback, visit here.

 

For more health news, click here.

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AI-Powered MedTech Breakthrough: CSIRO and Singular Health Unveil Revolutionary Spinal Vertebrae Segmentation Technology

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An example of spinal segmentation software. CSIRO

AI-Powered MedTech Breakthrough: CSIRO and Singular Health Unveil Revolutionary Spinal Vertebrae Segmentation Technology

 

A groundbreaking AI-powered medical technology, developed through collaboration between CSIRO‘s Data61 and Australian Medical Imaging Company Singular Health, swiftly segments spinal vertebrae with an impressive 95% accuracy rate within a mere two minutes. This innovation holds the promise of revolutionising surgical planning and facilitating the design of customised implants for medical professionals.

Traditionally, the segmentation of spinal vertebrae in computerised tomography (CT) scans has demanded extensive manual labour, involving countless hours of meticulous identification and markups. However, the advent of AI automation heralds a transformative shift in this arduous process, significantly reducing time and effort while ensuring exceptional segmentation precision and localisation accuracy, as elucidated by Dr. Dadong Wang, Research Lead at Data61.

Singular Health’s Executive Director of Innovation, Dr. Guan Tay, underscores the game-changing potential of this automated segmentation technology. By integrating AI-driven automation into the segmentation process, medical professionals will now only need to make minor adjustments and validate the software’s outputs. This semi-automated approach empowers surgeons and radiologists to fine-tune the results according to their interpretations, ensuring meticulous compliance with image analysis standards while substantially streamlining processing time.

The utilisation of artificial intelligence in medical imaging, particularly in radiology, stands poised to profoundly reshape workflow dynamics for radiologists.

Leveraging a comprehensive dataset comprising over 200 CT scans of labelled data, the Data61 team meticulously explored various AI models and pre-processing techniques to achieve precise instance segmentation, labelling, surface meshing, and spatial localisation of individual vertebrae.

Dr. Wang elaborates on the AI development process, highlighting the adaptation of deep learning-based instance segmentation methodologies such as nnUNET, SC-NET, and Dense-NET. These models were rigorously trained using the VerSe’2020 dataset, comprising 100 CT scans of spines from individuals spanning diverse age groups and genders. Subsequently, the trained models underwent rigorous testing on an additional 100 CT scans, generating segmented labels of the spine, individual vertebrae, spatial coordinates, and vertebra identification.

The integration of this cutting-edge technology into Singular Health’s MedVR software represents a significant milestone, offering a transformative solution for hospitals, clinicians, educational institutions, and universities alike. This milestone achievement was made possible through the CSIRO Kick–Start initiative, which extends funding and support to innovative Australian start-ups and small businesses, granting access to CSIRO’s unparalleled research and development (R&D) expertise and capabilities.

 

For more health news, click here.

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Northern Rivers Business Community gets behind Autism Awareness Month

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Autism Awareness Month

Northern Rivers Business Community gets behind Autism Awareness Month

 

Aprils is National Autism Awareness Month where recognition raises awareness about autism acceptance and promotes inclusion and connectedness for people with autism.  Social and community support can help people with autism achieve optimal health and reach their full potential.

Business NSW Northern Rivers is co-hosting the Autism@Work Business Luncheon with the Northern Rivers Autism Association on Tuesday 9 April 2024 in Ballina as part of Autism Awareness Month and the official launch of the Northern Rivers Autism Association.

“Micheal Lynch, Chair of the Association has been working tirelessly with our team on this event and we hope to demonstrate the support we can put behind such a great initiative to embrace a neurodiverse workforce in our region.”  Said Jane Laverty, Regional Director Business NSW

The luncheon will feature guest speaker, Mat Rogers a dual code international with a prominent career in both rugby league and union.  After a stella career representing Queensland, the Kangaroo’s and the Wallabies, Mat finished his career back in the NRL with the Gold Coast Titans, retiring in 2011.

With his wife, Chloe Maxwell, Mat is devoted to the charity they established, 4ASDKIDS, after discovering their son was autistic, so they could help other families with autistic children.

“We are excited to have Mat lead the conversation along with an expert panel sharing thoughts on the amazing value we can bring to our businesses and employees with a neurodiverse workforce and inclusive workplaces.”  Mrs Laverty said.

“This is going to be an inspiring event and an opportunity for Micheal Lynch to share his vision for the Association.  The Northern Rivers business community is looking forward to being part of this month of awareness raising and promoting inclusion and acceptance.

The expert panel includes:

  • Luke Terry, CEO of Whitebox Enterprises/Beacon Laundry (located in Bangalow and newly formed social enterprise)
  • Andrew Cashin, Professor of Autism and Intellectual Disability with Southern Cross University
  • Samantha Albertini, Senior Manager People & Culture with Social Futures
  • Jodi Rogers, locally based counsellor (Birds & Bees) who has just authored a book called Unique – what Autism Can Teach Us about Difference, Connection and Belonging

“Most of us know someone on the spectrum and know that autism can be a superpower.  With more than ¾ of Australians on the spectrum being young (between 5 and 24) it is important that we look at how our workplaces can adapt for neurodiverse people and enable greater inclusivity.”

 

For more health news, click here.

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