A smart app designed by University College London (UCL) is helping to improve the reading ability of stroke patients.
Designed by the UCL Institute of Neurology’s Aphasia Lab, the iReadMore app provides computer-based reading therapy to help improve word-reading speed and accuracy.
Stroke patients usually need around 100 hours of Speech and Language Therapy (Salt) to see a noticeable improvement, but the NHS only provides around 12 hours of therapy. The iReadMore app has been designed so patients can have limitless hours of therapy with the researchers hoping to make it available for general use in the future.
The app was tested in a trial involving 21 chronic stroke patients with central alexia, an acquired reading disorder that affects speech and comprehension. Participants used the iReadMore app for two, four-week blocks (each block comprising 34 hours) with their reading ability being measured, before, during and after the trial.
The app uses a large number of ‘trained’ words which are regularly repeated during therapy. iReadMore also contains ‘untrained’ words which patients do not practice. This allows researchers to assess whether only trained words improved or both untrained and trained words improved.
Results of the study showed that patients’ reading accuracy for trained words improved on average by 8.7%, with some improving by as much as 25%. Other results showed that participants’ reading speed also increased; there was no effect on untrained words and that improvements for trained words were largely maintained after three-months.
The iReadMore trial also investigated the use of transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to stimulate neural plasticity in the underlying brain. The effects of tDCS were apparent on both trained and untrained words, but only averaged 2.6% improvement in accuracy across the participants.
Lead author Dr Zoe Woodhead (UCL Institute of Neurology and University of Oxford) said: “Strokes often cause damage to left side of the brain, which is important for reading, speech and comprehension.
“What this study shows is that regular practice with this reading therapy significantly improves people’s ability to relearn and remember words which we all familiar with.
“In addition, the electrical stimulation (tDCS) further improves a stroke patient’s ability to read, but the effect is smaller than the iReadMore therapy.”
Alex Leff, professor of Cognitive Neurology, (UCL Institute of Neurology), says making the app publicly available could radically improve stroke patients’ outcomes.
“Following a stroke, patients get around four hours of speech and language therapy in hospital, and in the following weeks the NHS provides, on average, 8 hours in the community.
“While standard speech and language therapy is effective, patients need around 100 hours to significantly improve, so at least six times more than is currently provided by the NHS.
“By making the iReadMore app publicly available, it means patients will be able to have therapy as often as they want, and gain steady improvements.
“The application is intuitive and adaptive. The training gets harder for patients as reading improves, ensuring they have incremental improvements at a rate suitable for them.”