For the 100,000 people who develop speech impairment after a stroke in the U.S. each year, there’s an iPhone app in development designed to help aphasia patients speak in complete sentences.
According to a Feb. 16 study in the journal Stroke, medical costs for patients who also suffer from speech problems are 8.5% higher than for stroke patients without aphasia.
That’s where Julius Fridriksson’s app comes in. At the annual meeting of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science in Boston last week, Fridriksson presented the process he and his team at the University of South Carolina have developed for "speech entrainment."
The app presents video of a woman’s mouth and audio of her voice clearly orating simple sentences ("I like to cook eggs."). When the patient’s sees the video and hear the audio, they are able to put together words and sentences by mimicking her speech. Although the technique relies on simple mimicry, it’s often the first time many of the study subjects have been able to conjure fluid sentences since the stroke that cause their aphasia.
"We are advocating this as a component of treatment," Fridriksson said during his AAAS presentation. "Treatment has typically focused on language drills. Speech entrainment is actually ‘pulling along’ the speech."
Aphasia is caused by severe damage to the brain’s speech centers, areas famously identified by Paul Broca. Speech impairment is experienced in ⅓ of stroke victims.
Fridriksson’s study included 13 patients who completed 3 behavioral tasks and underwent MRIs. Speech entrainment was shown to improve overall unassisted speech.
Fridriksson’s presentation accompanied research from Cynthia Thompson of Northwestern University and Sheila Blumstein of Brown University.
The common theme of the presentations was that the medical consensus about brain plasticity is changing: The brain is more "plastic," or re-trainable, than previously thought, giving hope to patients suffering from impaired speech and other brain-related ailments.