Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative condition after Alzheimer’s. It affects approximately 10 million people worldwide and roughly 12,000 Irish people are living with the condition which can cause mobility problems and impaired balance. Ninety per cent of those affected also experience difficulties with their voice and this is the problem being addressed by Teleatherapy, an app-based service developed by speech and language therapist Clare Meskill to give patients early access to vital voice therapy. Early interventions have been shown to help maintain the voice in those affected by Parkinson’s for up to an additional two years.
“Teleatherapy enables patients to practice their voice therapy at home, meaning they can access clinician monitored therapy without the waiting times associated with the public healthcare system and the high cost of going privately,” Meskill says. “Patients receive reminder texts and emails and a clinician will check in with them if they haven’t practised in a few days. At present there is no technological solution that provides clinicians with real-time feedback when someone practises their voice therapy at home. Teleatherapy fills this gap while also reassuring patients that their progress is being monitored by a professional.”
For now, Teleatherapy will provide the monitoring oversight. However, once the app reaches its final iteration it will be made available to the speech and language therapy community at large to use with their patients.
Waterford-born Meskill set up Teleatherapy in October 2020 and launched the app in July this year. A pilot is in progress with Galway and Mayo members of the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland. Individuals who want to access the app, which operates as a SaaS revenue model on a monthly basis, can register their interest on the company’s website.
“My interest in Parkinson’s disease was initially sparked on a clinical placement in college when I saw the impact and improvement voice therapy has on a patient’s life first hand,” Meskill says. “I also volunteer with the Cork Parkinson’s choir and from speaking to people there I was aware that voice therapy wasn’t always easily accessible because of public waitlists and the cost of going private. That started me thinking about a tech solution that allows patients to access the therapy from home while being monitored by a clinician.”
As many entrepreneurs before Meskill have discovered, the cost of developing an app can mount. But Meskill says one of the advantages of having a limited budget is that it focuses the mind. “If you don’t have a lot of cash you have to become inventive,” she says. “You also learn very quickly that you have to prioritise, particularly in relation to the features you decide to include. It may be nice to have a particular feature, but at this point the more relevant question is do people want and need it?”
Investment in the business to date has been around €90,000 between private funding and support from Cork City Leo and Enterprise Ireland innovation vouchers which allowed Meskill to work with the Nimbus Centre at Munster Technological University to develop her product. Meskill, who is one of the latest crop of young graduate entrepreneurs to have come through UCC’s 12-month IGNITE incubation programme, is now looking to raise €250,000 to complete the product and start building her team.
“My aim with Teleatherapy is to improve the lives of individuals with Parkinson’s and to allow them to communicate and use their voices for as long as possible,” Meskill says. “One lady whose voice had begun to weaken since her Parkinson’s diagnosis found that just three weeks into using the app her voice had become much stronger. That’s the why we are building this service – to enable individuals with Parkinson’s to continue communicating with their loved ones.”