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New device to help overcome stuttering

April 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, Carly Simon, Winston Churchill and Mel Tillis all suffered from stuttering. Today, more than 68 million people worldwide deal with the speech disorder, which affects four times as many men as women. There's no known single cause, but there are several effective treatments.

The drama that played out in the Oscar-winning film "The King's Speech" is what Dave Barnett lived with every day of his life.

"I had people laugh at me, mock me. It was rough," said Barnett.

The word "seven" was particularly hard for him, but not anymore. After speech therapy and even hypnosis, Barnett's now found his voice with a small hearing-aid type device called the SpeechEasy.

"For many people, it's their last resort. [They've] tried everything else," said Jennifer Peacock, M.A., CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI.

Speech pathologists at the Henry Ford Hospital are using the SpeechEasy to not amplify sound, but instead alter it, echoing a person's voice in a different pitch with a very slight delay.

"You're hearing your voice just milliseconds after you actually say it, and the change in frequency makes it sound like you're talking with another person instead hearing just your own voice," said Peacock.

"As I speak, there's a computer voice in my ear, which I hear all day long," said Barnett.

It creates a choral effect, which resembles when you speak or sing in unison with others, allowing Barnett to speak without stuttering.

"It's completely changed my life," said Barnett.

A study at Henry Ford Hospital showed that 57 percent of the people who tried the device ended up purchasing it, which doesn't mean it didn't work for everyone but it is expensive. It costs up to $5,000, and insurance often does not cover it.