Problems with speaking, known as aphasia, are common in people who have suffered a stroke. Most patients seek out treatment with a professional speech therapist. However, with regular physical therapy and checkups with the doctor, it can be hard to get to these appointments. For those who live in more remote areas, or have a hard time getting around, going to a speech therapist becomes even more cumbersome. So what can these people do? Turn to the internet! The online world has expanded rapidly over the past few decades to a magnitude that we’ve never seen. You can find anything on the internet – from funny videos to news. So it’s no wonder that you could potentially find internet-based training for stroke recovery too.
Turning to the internet as a resource for speech therapy
Getting people their speech therapy through the internet seems like a win-win situation for everyone. The patient doesn’t have to go anywhere, making this arrangement the most convenient one possible. However, people who have stroke-induced aphasia might have trouble using the internet, especially since it requires access to technology and some higher level of communication ability. Thus, online therapy needs to be user-friendly for stroke patients.
Does online training compare to on-site training?
To ensure the feasibility of such programs, researchers adopted a user-centered design, or UCD, approach. First, the program must go through usability testing. Canadian researchers evaluated this testing in PhonoCom, which is an online application that helps patient with specific naming therapy. Since other studies show that about 80% of all usability issues surface with the first 5 participants, the researchers recruited six patients for testing of their online program.
All patients were suffering from aphasia after a stroke. They got up to 6 hours of PhonoCom treatment. This treatment involved a patient-doctor interaction over real-time using high-speed internet, which included both audio and video transmissions. The primary difference between online training and conventional training was that the clinician presented pictures and phonological components of target words on a computer screen rather than on a whiteboard.
The researchers were excited to find that this Internet-based aphasia training was easy to use and a good alternative to on-site treatment. Even after just 6 hours of training, the improvements patients experienced were comparable. All the participants were able to complete the tasks on their own with few errors, and they reported that they enjoyed using the program too! Mostly, the biggest advantage was being able to do this therapy in the comfort of their own homes.
The only downside to online therapy was, of course, much less direct eye contact and body language during treatment. The audio and video quality was also much less impressive than the real thing.
Is online aphasia training for you?
Depending on what you’re most comfortable with and personal preference, the researchers have shown that both online and on-site aphasia training are equally beneficial for recovery. However, whether or not you prefer to go to your therapy site is up to you. There are pros and cons to both modalities, but nothing that might interfere with your actual recovery.
The lead author of this study is Tijana Simic, Department of Speech-Language Pathology, at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.