Recovering from post-stroke aphasia is a long process in which many factors play a role. But one of the key components of rehabilitation is timely and adequate speech therapy. Unfortunately, beyond the first few months of post-stroke/post-trauma recovery, most aphasia patients normally get in-person therapy only once a week. This is often due to limitations in what insurance would cover or lack of easy access to in-person therapy in some areas of the country.
“There is a lot of research showing that using in-person therapy once a week is not enough for patients to regain their functional skills,”
says Dr. Swathi Kiran, Professor in the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at Boston University and a scientific advisor for the Constant Therapy aphasia rehabilitation software.
“People who have had a stroke recover for many years after their stroke. What needs to happen is continued treatment and rehabilitation, continued experiences to enable and enhance their conversational skills,” adds Kiran.
This is where digital assistive technologies such as therapy apps (short for applications) can help.
Studies have provided evidence that people who get in-person therapy sessions and then practice at home with tailored speech therapies delivered via apps and assistive technologies improve faster than people who get only in-person therapy.
Patients can practice at home either alone or with the help of their caregiver. There is evidence to suggest that home-use of therapy apps is as effective for speech rehabilitation as using apps with a clinician, especially since at-home practice is often more frequent than sessions with a clinician.
Studies on a small group of patients with expressive aphasia have also provided some preliminary evidence that even a self-delivered speech therapy via an iPad can benefit aphasia patients in their recovery when patients train for at least 20 minutes each day. It is important to note however that the general consensus among clinicians and aphasia professionals is that the best use of apps remains that which is combined with in-person sessions with a speech and language pathologist.
There is also good news for those who don’t have access to in-person therapy due to mobility issues or lack of aphasia rehabilitation centers in proximity to their area. Such patients can still improve their speech skills by practicing with apps at home in combination with once-a-week teletherapy (in-person therapy delivered via video teleconference).
Therapy apps and assistive technologies range by functionality. Some focus on helping with communication (e.g. Proloquo2Go). Others provide rehabilitation exercises or offer both rehab and communication assistance (e.g. Tactus, Lingraphica, Constant Therapy). For more information on these apps check out our aphasia apps listing.
Of course not all apps are created equal and may not offer the same benefits for patients with aphasia. Moreover, clinicians and therapists can suggest a variety of tools that may not even be specific to aphasia or disability rehabilitation but can aid aphasia recovery.
We reached out to our affiliates (speech language pathologists (SLPs), support group managers, and aphasia center managers) to learn more about what apps they and their patients are finding most helpful for therapy, communication or help with day-to-day tasks. The respondents offered some interesting insights that we have summarized below.
Apps for in-person Aphasia Therapy
Most popular: Constant Therapy, Lingraphica, Tactus
Other apps: Alexicom, Bungalow Software, GoTalkNow, Inked, Magic Slate, Pictello, Pro Loquo 2 Go, Seech Sounds to Cue, Speech Tutor, Talk for Me text to speech, TherAppy, TouchChat and VAST.
Apps to facilitate communication, recommended by SLPs
Most popular: Lingraphica (Small Talk, Talk Path News, Touch Talk, All Talk), Pro Loquo 2 Go, TouchChat
Other apps: Alexicom, ClaroCom, Constant Therapy, Dynovox, GoTalkNow, Lingusystem, Magic Slate, Pictello, Tactus, TypO, Whole Speech Practice Kit
Use of general apps in aphasia
Most SLPs who responded use apps that are not specific to aphasia or speech therapy. Examples include phone pictures or drawing apps to help with conversation, using Siri as a rough test at home on how understandable a patient’s language is or for those who struggle using their cell phone. Search engine apps can be used for word-finding support.
Other examples include phone apps such as calendar, notes, reminders, and timers to help with memory, scheduling and tasks.
Patients and caregivers often use social media for therapy-related tasks, to find support, stay in touch with family and friends, practice communication or find information about aphasia. Facebook and YouTube are among the most popular Social Media platforms, followed by Instagram, Pinterest and Google+. Other apps include Twitter, Snapchat and Whatsapp.
Smartphones or desktops
For aphasia therapy the top choice of SLPs and patients is iPad or iPhone, closely followed by android tablet or smartphone. Desktops and laptops are much less popular.
Many people don’t have access to quality aphasia therapy within commuting distance. Teletherapy can be a savior for those patients. The practice is not widespread but it is not uncommon. Several of the respondents indicated that SLPs at their practice use telehealth delivered via HIPPA level Zoom, Zoom Pro, Facetime, Skype, Whatsapp video and Google Hangouts.
Many thanks to all who participated in this survey!
We welcome more input from aphasia professionals, caregivers, aphasia patients, and app developers about the use of assistive technologies and apps. You can find the NAA survey here. We will use your answers to regularly update this post with new information.