Device may restore speech to people on breathing tubes

by Brenda Goodman, Healthday Reporter
Device may restore speech to people on breathing tubes
Doctors say 'electrolarynx' eased frustration for patient on mechanical ventilator.

(HealthDay)—Doctors in the Netherlands say they've found a potentially important new use for a simple old device—the "electronic voice box." It may help hospitalized patients who've lost the ability to speak because they need tubes down their throat to help them breathe.

The electronic voice box, or "electrolarynx," was first developed in the 1920s. It's a cylinder, about the size of an electric shaver that vibrates at one end. It's been used almost exclusively to help people who've lost their ability to speak because their vocal cords have been surgically removed, often after cancer.

"It's mostly been used in the past. It's something I saw when I was a student. I saw a patient who was able to talk with the device and it made a huge impression on me," said Dr. Armand Girbes, an intensive care physician at VU University Medical Center, in Amsterdam.

The device came to mind again when a patient's wife recently came to Girbes to say that her husband, who was on a after lung surgery, was frustrated because he couldn't speak. Girbes searched the hospital to dig up the only electrolarynx they still had.

"I tried it myself. I put it on my neck," he said.

After a few minutes of practice, which Girbes said felt a little bit like lip-synching, he used his mouth and tongue to form words without actually trying to make the sounds himself—and he was able to produce intelligible words.

His 59-year-old patient got the hang of it just as quickly.

"I still remember the first thing he said to his wife: He said 'Hello, my dear.' That was very moving to hear from a patient who was critically ill in intensive care," Girbes said.

He reported his success in the March 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"I think it's an interesting idea," said Dr. Lindsay Reder, an assistant professor of otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She was not involved in the patient's case.

"A lot of these patients who are intubated are also on sedation medication because it's not the most comfortable thing," Reder said.

For his part, Girbes said a side benefit of using the electrolarynx in ventilated patients is that they might need less sedation (because of reduced stress). Delirium and oversedation are major problems for in units.

Reder said that's an interesting theory, but one that requires more research to prove for certain.

"I think it's something we'd obviously need to do more of it in a controlled way to know if it's widely applicable, but I do think it's an interesting thing from a quality-of-life and quality-of-care standpoint," she said.

More information: For ways to help a loved one be comfortable during a stay in the intensive care unit, visit the Safe Patient Resource Center.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Gaps exist in patient-centered quality of CRC care at VA

Feb 08, 2014

(HealthDay)—Patient-reported quality assessment measures reveal substantial gaps in patient-centered quality of colorectal cancer care, according to a study published online Feb 3 in the Journal of Clinical On ...

Recommended for you

Dialysis patients may have faulty 'good' cholesterol

13 hours ago

Kidney disease patients on dialysis often have impaired high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol, according to a study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN) ...

Freshwater algae can infect wounds, study shows

14 hours ago

(HealthDay)—The cases of two men who got injured while enjoying the great outdoors in Missouri and Texas are giving insight into a freshwater algae that can infect wounds.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.