Many people with motor neurone disease (MND) will experience weakness in the bulbar region, affecting muscles of the mouth, throat and tongue. This weakness can lead to problems with speech and voice, which will affect ability to communicate (dysarthria).
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is an important clinical intervention for many people with MND. Some people with MND may want to bank their voice for future use within high-tech AAC systems.
This information is for health and social care professionals. It gives an overview of what voice banking is, what the process involves and where to find more information.
You may also want to see our information for people living with or affected by MND on our speech and communication pages.
Voice banking is a process that allows a person to record a set list of phrases with their own voice, while they still have the ability to do so. This recording is then converted to create a personal synthetic voice.
When the person is no longer able to use their own voice, they can use the synthetic voice in speech-generating communication devices to generate an infinite number of words and sentences. The voice created will be synthetic and not be a perfect replica of the person’s natural speech, but it will bear some resemblance.
Voice banking is not the same as a digital legacy. Nature Research has developed a short video about digital legacies. It features projects including RecordMeNow and the work and experiences of PhD student Oliver Clabburn.
The person with MND will record a number of phrases that are then combined to create a synthetic voice. This voice will be used to vocalise any sentence entered into a speech-generating communication device.
The number of phrases to be recorded varies between service providers but, generally, it will be between 350 and 3500 sentences. For someone who is feeling well, in a quiet environment, the process can take around two hours. It may take much longer if multiple breaks are needed or the chosen service requires a lot of phrases to be recorded.
Not everyone will be able to bank their voice for future use. People with MND who already have dysarthria may not be able to bank their voice, as sentences need to be pronounced well as they are recorded. However some services are now able to offer voice repair options that use a database of healthy human voices to supplement a voice which has already deteriorated in quality by the time it is recorded <Link to Message banking and voice repair.
It is imperative that a person with MND who wishes to bank their voice does so as early as possible, ideally before bulbar symptoms develop. It is possible to bank a voice with mild dysarthria while speech is still fully intelligible. However, it is important to make sure the person with MND knows that the voice they put in will be the voice they get out, not an improved version, unless they are using voice repair options.
It may be that a conversation about voice banking needs to happen before a person has come to terms with the possibility that they may lose their voice. However, the subject needs to be raised early to give people time to consider whether they want to bank their voice, to give time to complete the process, and for it to have the best chance of being successful.