This article provides a summary of some recent innovations in voice assessment expected to have an impact in the next 5–10 years on how patients with voice disorders are clinically managed by speech-language pathologists. Specific innovations discussed are in the areas of laryngeal imaging, ambulatory voice monitoring, and “big data” analysis using machine learning to produce new metrics for vocal health. Also discussed is the potential for using voice analysis to detect and monitor other health conditions.
Many common voice disorders are chronic or recurring conditions that are likely to result from inefficient and/or abusive patterns of vocal behavior, referred to as vocal hyperfunction. The clinical management of hyperfunctional voice disorders would be greatly enhanced by the ability to monitor and quantify detrimental vocal behaviors during an individualâ€™s activities of daily life. This paper provides an update on ongoing work that uses a miniature accelerometer on the neck surface below the larynx to collect a large set of ambulatory data on patients with hyperfunctional voice disorders (before and after treatment) and matched-control subjects. Three types of analysis approaches are being employed in an effort to identify the best set of measures for differentiating among hyperfunctional and normal patterns of vocal behavior: (1) ambulatory measures of voice use that include vocal dose and voice quality correlates, (2) aerodynamic measures based on glottal airflow estimates extracted from the accelerometer signal using subject-specific vocal system models, and (3) classification based on machine learning and pattern recognition approaches that have been used successfully in analyzing long-term recordings of other physiological signals. Preliminary results demonstrate the potential for ambulatory voice monitoring to improve the diagnosis and treatment of common hyperfunctional voice disorders.
Voice disorders are medical conditions that often result from vocal abuse/misuse which is referred to generically as vocal hyperfunction. Standard voice assessment approaches cannot accurately determine the actual nature, prevalence, and pathological impact of hyperfunctional vocal behaviors because such behaviors can vary greatly across the course of an individual's typical day and may not be clearly demonstrated during a brief clinical encounter. Thus, it would be clinically valuable to develop noninvasive ambulatory measures that can reliably differentiate vocal hyperfunction from normal patterns of vocal behavior. As an initial step toward this goal we used an accelerometer taped to the neck surface to provide a continuous, noninvasive acceleration signal designed to capture some aspects of vocal behavior related to vocal cord nodules, a common manifestation of vocal hyperfunction. We gathered data from 12 female adult patients diagnosed with vocal fold nodules and 12 control speakers matched for age and occupation. We derived features from weeklong neck-surface acceleration recordings by using distributions of sound pressure level and fundamental frequency over 5-min windows of the acceleration signal and normalized these features so that intersubject comparisons were meaningful. We then used supervised machine learning to show that the two groups exhibit distinct vocal behaviors that can be detected using the acceleration signal. We were able to correctly classify 22 of the 24 subjects, suggesting that in the future measures of the acceleration signal could be used to detect patients with the types of aberrant vocal behaviors that are associated with hyperfunctional voice disorders.