Aphasia is one of the most devastating consequences of stroke. It is a condition that makes communication very difficult because people either have trouble speaking, trouble using words and grammar or trouble understanding language. While the symptoms of aphasia can be improved with speech and language therapy, many stroke survivors are left with long term communication problems that profoundly affect their family and their social and working lives. Stroke survivors with aphasia commonly experience isolation and feel cut off from the world around them.
Virtual reality (or pretend) worlds on the internet have exciting potential for stroke survivors with aphasia. They allow people to participate in social exchanges using a virtual character or ‘avatar’ to represent themselves. These programmes can offer a way for stroke survivors to develop communication skills and recreate a social environment in which to practise those skills. They also have the potential to reduce social isolation, since they create opportunities for virtual encounters and may build up confidence for real life social experiences.
This project will develop a special therapy area within ‘Second Life’, an existing virtual reality world on the internet. It will be protected so that only other people with aphasia and specially trained support workers can take part. The researchers will work with people with aphasia to ensure the therapy area is best suited to meet their needs. They will then test whether using the virtual world can improve communication skills and reduce feelings of social isolation in 20 people with aphasia. They will also find out whether people with aphasia enjoy using the programme and explore the factors that might prevent people with aphasia from using the technology.