Virtual reality is not just for gamers anymore – in the medical world, virtual technologies are transforming many facets of training and treatment. And this has led to significant advancements in the field. Most recently, scientists reported that a virtual reality world improved speech and communication skills in stroke survivors.
Imagine finding yourself suddenly unable to speak a coherent sentence, or understand what is being said to you. About one third of stroke survivors sustain damage the areas of the brain responsible for language, leading to a language disorder known as aphasia. As a result, they have difficulty communicating what we would normally consider to be simple thoughts and ideas.
Now, with the help of a virtual reality world called EVA Park, their aphasia may be improving. The enhanced reality game was created with the help of aphasia patients for aphasia patients. In this multi-user world, patients are represented as avatars who can then practice communicating in different scenarios. For example, patients can role play and practice ordering dinner at a virtual restaurant, or communicate their needs to a virtual hairdresser.
"We designed EVA Park to offer a playful and immerse experience,” said Jane Marshall, scientist at the Divisional of Language and Communication Science at City University London and lead author of the study. Often, aphasia can be a disability that’s hidden with no chance for improvement unless patients are engaged in social interactions.
Indeed, a group of 20 patients with aphasia showed considerably improved communication functions after 5 weeks of intervention with EVA Park. The study also reported a high rate of compliance, suggesting the patients were satisfied with the virtual reality therapy.
"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 Marshall. To spark conversation and motivate patients to engage in communication, EVA Park also contains some fantastical elements, such as mermaids in a lake, and magic mirror balls. The quirkiness of the design injects a sort of game-like feel to the therapy, and perhaps makes patients feel more at ease.
“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,” concluded Marshall.
Additional source: City University press release