Saving "I Love You"

May 26, 2020

Dr. Jolene Hyppa-Martin is making sure that people with ALS can communicate, even after they lose the ability to speak. 

ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), sometimes referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ultimately paralyzes all the muscles in a person’s body, including the ones used for speech. UMD Communication Sciences and Disorders Assistant Professor Jolene Hyppa-Martin oversees a project that allows people diagnosed with ALS to “bank” their voices, so once they can no longer speak, they can still communicate with family and friends.

Hyppa-Martin, a speech pathologist, records an ALS patient saying hundreds of words and phrases. These are then saved to a database which the person can eventually access using either an iPad or a speech-generating device. Patients can also “bank” special messages, stories for their grandchildren, or prayers. One person even banked phrases to cheer on the Vikings. 

Students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program work with Hyppa-Martin, learning about the process and helping to improve it. Because of this teaching component and through support from the ALS Association, the voice banking service is offered free of charge at UMD. There is only one other voice banking site in Minnesota, on the UM-Twin Cities campus.

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