Can computers help us recover speech? Find out how!

August 9, 2018

Stroke survivors can often develop problems with speaking if the damage affects language areas of the brain. This condition is called aphasia, and the treatment usually is speech therapy. Communicating is essential for a good quality of life. Imagine not being able to read stories to your grandchildren! Unfortunately, it’s really hard to re-learn how to speak. Luckily for us, computers may have found a way to make it easier.

We can harness the true power of computers to help us after stroke

In our modern world, computers help millions of people every day. From simplifying tasks to analyzing tons of data – we use computers in almost everything we do. So why not in stroke rehab? It turns out we can. Computers can help with cognitive rehabilitation by exercising your brain. Anything from attention, to memory, and even problem-solving are fair game.

Power-Afa, a new program to help you speak better

Attention is critical when we are re-learning how to speak. That’s where Power-Afa comes in, a new program that helps patients practice brain skills. Italian researchers decided to test this program in stroke patients suffering from chronic, non-fluent aphasia. They wanted to see if it could perform as well or better than traditional speech therapies.

Power-Afa uses various methods to tackle the concept of brain exercise. For example, it uses sound to stimulate your hearing and listening skills, asking you to understand names or actions. These exercises are repeated to help you improve your ability to complete the listening tasks. It also tests your understanding of semantics, asking you to take different materials and understand where they belong, including questions about your own personal evaluation. The written task asks you to listen to audio and copy or transcribe what you hear. And the tasks involving the relationship of words will present you with an exercise of different categories, such as animals, fruits, colors, and body parts.

The researchers studied how effective Power-Afa was both in the short and long-term. Thirty-two patients were recruited with an average age of 52, divided into an experimental and control group. Everyone got the same traditional speech therapy, which was 45-minute sessions three times a week for eight weeks. The experimental group got an additional Power-Afa computer training, which was also for 45 minutes, three times a week, for eight weeks. Those in the control group trained with a standard language disorder therapy for the same amount of time.

Power-Afa works!

It turns out that computers help when it comes to recovering your speech. Researchers found that patients using Power-Afa had better results than the control group. The most notable differences were attention and repetition scores. These improvements were significant, and the results were still good three months later. That means the benefit you get from this type of computer training might last you for the long run!

On top of that, the patients using the computer had a better functional improvement overall. This benefit was also present at long-term follow-up appointments too. Researchers think that the computer exercises yield so many benefits because they are repetitive, intensive, and task-oriented. Many of them are good at motivating patients to do better and practice more. All of these factors help you recover more function by continually activating those neurons that need healing so that we can re-wire our brains back to recovery.

Never give up hope!

Many people lose hope after the first few months of stroke rehab. Some people believe that after the acute recovery phase, there is no possibility for any improvement in function. But this study has just given us a glimmer of hope. All the patients who were in this study were already in the chronic phase after their stroke, and many of them experienced significant improvements in their speech and overall function. This means that we should never give up! Always try your best to get healthier and more independent. It doesn’t hurt to look on the bright side of things and hope for the best! All we can do is put our best foot forward and work towards our goals.

The lead author of this study was Rosaria De Luca, IRCCS Centro Neurolesi “Bonino-Pulejo”, and the Otorhinolaryngology Unit, University of Messina, Messina, Italy.

Editorial note:

Using a computer program can help patients recover their speaking function by giving them more training time and focusing their attention.

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