People suffering from Aphasia can improve their communication with the use of a virtual reality world — EVA Park — developed by researchers from the City University London.
Aphasia is a language disorder affecting about one-third of stroke survivors and can virtually eliminate speech.
EVA Park is a multi-user virtual world which enables people with aphasia to engage in conversation with each other, or with therapists and support workers. It contains a variety of virtual locations, including a town square and attractive green spaces.
Users are represented by personalised avatars and the virtual EVA Park island gives them the opportunity to practise functional and social conversations and gain confidence in an interactive space. Examples include everyday conversations such as ordering food in a restaurant, requesting a haircut or calling the police in an emergency.
For the study, the EVA Park team took 20 participants with aphasia having an average age was 57.8 and gave them five weeks intervention. During this time participants received 25 daily language stimulation sessions in EVA Park lasting around an hour. Sessions were led by support workers, most of whom were qualified speech and language therapists.
Participants spent an average of 40 hours in EVA Park showing that they were very accepting of the space and even used it outside their scheduled sessions with the support worker.
"Our results show how technology can benefit people with speech and language disorders such as aphasia. Virtual reality may help to reduce feelings of embarrassment that can accompany real world communication failure, so encourage the practice of difficult communication exchanges," said Jane Marshall, Professor at the City University London.
The study, which is published in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first exploration of multi-user virtual reality in aphasia therapy and shows the potential for technology to play an important role in improving the everyday lives of people with the condition.