Academics at City University London have created a virtual reality world to help those who have impaired speech and language following a stroke.
EVA Park is a virtual communication environment that features a series of simulated locations, including houses, a restaurant, a health centers, a hair salon, a tropical bar, and a disco. The virtual world can be populated by several people at once, each represented by their own unique avatar. Communication can be done by speech using a head set and microphone or by typing. A six button key pad is used to move around in the environment.
City University London conducted a study, published in PLOS ONE, which involved twenty people with a mean age of 57.8 years with aphasia (the loss of language following brain damage, commonly caused by stroke). Each person had five weeks’ access to EVA Park, where they received supported language stimulation. This included daily hour-long sessions with a support worker, which would equal to 25 sessions in all by the end of the study.
The results showed that patients spent an average of 40 hours in EVA Park over the course of the study. All the participants completed the study, with only one individual struggling to use the virtual reality system. Intervention brought about significant gains on a measure of functional communication.
“Our results show how technology can benefit people with speech and language disorders such as aphasia,” said professor Jane Marshall, a research in the Divisional of Language and Communication Science at City and lead author of the study. “Virtual reality may help to reduce feelings of embarrassment that can accompany real world communication failure, so encourage the practice of difficult communication exchanges.
“We designed EVA Park to offer a playful and immerse experience. We found that delivering speech and language therapy within the world can have really positive results and we’ve shown specifically that supported conversation within EVA can improve the everyday communication of people with aphasia. We are convinced that Eva Park can make a significant impact on the lives of people with aphasia.”
The academics look to test this system with a larger, older, and less computer literate group of people in the future, in order to test the broader applications of EVA Park within the stroke population.