SAN JOSE (KCBS) – Touch screen tablet computers have given brain injury patients who have trouble speaking new ways to communicate at a fraction of the cost of speech synthesis equipment common just a few years ago.

The many medical uses of iPads and other tablet computers were showcased before some of the top brain experts in the nation, who gathered Friday for the Third Annual Santa Clara Valley Brain Injury Conference.

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“The use if iPads has become a big part of our program,” said Debbie Burdsall, technology champion for the Valley Medical Center Foundation.

“We can use it as a communication device with certain apps,” she said, so that a patient who is non-verbal when discharged has an easy-to-use tool to take home with them.

KCBS’ Matt Bigler Reports:

Burdsall tapped away at the icons on an iPad screen to demonstrate how fast the thoughts can be rendered as spoken words.

“French Fries please,” the voice said, relaying a lunch order with speech algorithms capable of sophisticated linguistic judgment.

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“It conjugates,” Burdsall said, “it’s just fantastic.”

The iPad has rapidly become much more than a media consumption device to read the newspaper or idle the time with a video game. Doctors say more and more brain injury patients use tablets both to communicate and to rehabilitate.

As many as one in ten Americans are affected directly by someone they know who has a brain injury, said Anne Perkins, manager of rehabilitation relations at Valley Medical Center.

It’s not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have made head trauma so common among people in their 20s. Teenagers injured playing sports, and even obesity, have led to increased incidence of brain injuries, Perkins said.

“We’ve had a number of teenagers and young 20s who are getting brain aneurisms and strokes as well,” she said.

But the dream of an iPad for every patient may take some time to materialize. Right now, insurance companies pay for more expensive speech devices, but do not cover the cost of a tablet computer for the same purpose.

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