iPad App May Help Stroke Patients

Tim Watt  |  May 5, 2015
iPad App may help stroke survivors

Sometimes, a person who has experienced a stroke may deal with speech issues as a result. However, therapy through an iPad may be able to help people's speech recovery. 

Researchers from Boston University found that a tablet app may help patients dealing with aphasia, a communication condition commonly caused by a stroke. According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, when a person has a stroke, certain areas of the brain may be damaged afterward. If the part of the brain that deals with speech and language function is affected, he or she may end up with aphasia. The National Aphasia Association stated that 1 million Americans currently have aphasia. 

A sad truth
Many people who deal with aphasia often don't get the care they need, the study authors noted. As the brain is constantly changing, treatment needs to be consistent with patients' alternating symptoms. Very few people don't have to undergo therapy for aphasia if their brain injury is mild, the Mayo Clinic stated. However, medical insurance usually won't cover long-term care for this condition. Luckily, research is proving the brain can be shaped at any time, even after skills have weakened or faded. Yet like any skill, beginning to practice speech again takes a lot of work and continual exercises, according to lead researcher Swathi Kiran, Ph.D.

An app Kiran and a colleague designed may be able to help. The app, Constant Therapy, is aimed toward anyone dealing with neurological issues as a result of a stroke, aphasia or a traumatic brain injury. Kiran and her colleague created a set of tasks that caters to this demographic. The software can be personalized to a person depending on which tasks they choose to do. The app is smart enough to choose new tasks for people based on their scores, or a person may work with a speech clinician to help them select instead. After she and her team finished the app, Kiran decided to test it out in a study. 

The study, which took place at Sargent College, involved 51 participants all who experienced aphasia. Each one was given an iPad to use for the experiments. Participants were divided into two groups. All participants worked with a clinician to perform exercises on the iPad weekly. However, one group got to work on personal goals using speech development software on the iPad at home as well. The clinician helped choose tasks for the patients to work on based on their skill level and score. The study authors found that many of the patients were eager to try out the technology. On average, participants spent more than four hours a week working on the tablet, and some even used the app more than that. 

Inspiring results
The findings revealed that everyone benefited from the therapy, but with varying degrees of success. Those participants who only saw a clinician did not improve their speech and language skills significantly, but did discover some change. However, people who got the opportunity to work with a clinician and bring the app home experienced considerable improvement in tests involving memory, language, speech and focus. The most positive result was that participants with more severe aphasia actually fared better than those with a milder form. The researchers were delighted by that finding, noting that many with considerable speech issues are usually excluded from these types of studies. The results proved that using a structured app like Constant Therapy may do the trick for patients experiencing these kind of issues. 

Given the positive findings from this study, Kiran is eager to test her technology on people with other types of neurological conditions, such as dementia, epilepsy and types of learning disabilities. Kira believes the app can be used in various ways to improve brain cognition and processing, and help those who are willing to polish their skills.  

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