What if speech therapy involved hanging out at a virtual tiki bar or taking the TARDIS (any Doctor Who fans out there?) for a spin? A new therapy tool called EVA Park, which is currently being tested in the UK and will launch this summer, will do just that. Participants can fly through blue skies or explore grassy islands, conversing with other avatars. It’s a virtual world, made specifically for people with aphasia.
An Exploration Tool
A recent study out of the University of London “found that time spent in a virtual world called EVA Park can improve the communication skills of people with aphasia, a communication condition which results in loss of speech and difficulty with communication following a stroke.”
It does this by providing an interesting virtual setting that people want to spend time exploring. Therapists can use the tool to encourage speech, having players describe what they’re seeing or doing, or practice holding different types of conversations. Aphasia support groups can also use the tool to facilitate conversation between members meeting up in the virtual world.
How Does it Work?
The tool isn’t currently ready for use, but in the future, users will be able to do the following things, according to the site’s FAQ page:
- Walk or fly around to explore the environment.
- Touch or sit on things to interact with them.
- Talk with other people in the world.
- Practice speech therapy tasks, or work towards functional goals.
- Have group discussion.
- Dance, swim or relax.
- Watch videos.
- Meditate on a giant rubber duck…
In other words, they can practice ordering food in a virtual restaurant and then smoothly move to another part of the environment to practice holding a meeting in a boardroom. Participants can experience diverse real-life situations in the virtual world without needing to move from their living room.
While that last one — meditating on a duck — may sound a bit odd, it’s the novelty of the environment that keeps people engaged. When people are engaged and actively exploring, they can relax and not focus on finding words.
Mood matters when it comes to the effectiveness of speech therapy. Treating aphasia takes work, and this tool aims to make speech therapy enjoyable. By turning therapy into play, participants may want to spend more time working hard at regaining language.
Moreover, the study found that EVA Park impacted mood:
The new findings from the study also show that EVA Park users frequently experience laughter and enjoyment, which may help to counter some of the negative emotions strongly associated with stroke, such as depression, which affects up to 60 percent of people with the condition.
This finding is particularly interesting because people often experience a diminished social network post-stroke. This tool could help build new friendships between others in a similar situation, fostering understanding and camaraderie.