Users meet inside EVA Park.

Virtual worlds help stroke survivors find their voices

A study by academics at City University London has found that virtual world EVA Park can improve the communication skills of stroke survivors. 

Published in PLOS One, the study explores using virtual worlds as a form of therapy for suffers of aphasia; a language impairment that affects a third of those who have a stroke.

Although technology has been used for aphasia therapy in the past, few have looked into the different opportunities gaming and virtual reality can provide until EVA Park; a virtual world developed by researchers from the university’s Division of Language and Communication Science (LCS) and the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design (HCID).

Delivering a more playful and immersive form of therapy, EVA Park enables multiple users with aphasia to converse with each other, as well as therapists and support workers.

With the ability to explore a variety of virtual locations including parks, shops, and a town square, the virtual island gives users the chance to practice their speech and gain confidence in a friendly environment, which can help improve users’ social interactions, motivation and interest in the therapy, lowering drop out rates.

In the study, ‘In-game’ goals were set around participants’ own lives and challenges. Many involved role-play scenarios such as ordering food at a restaurant or booking an appointment, but many were much more detailed.

For example, one user who wanted to improve their word finding capabilities chose to find and name every animal within EVA Park. Another, who wanted to get better at putting across a point, held a meeting within the world to discuss the benefits of building a sports centre within EVA Park.

“Our results show how technology can benefit people with speech and language disorders such as aphasia,” highlights Professor Jane Marshall, lead author of the study. “Virtual reality may help to reduce feelings of embarrassment that can accompany real world communication failure, so encourage the practice of difficult communication exchanges. We found that delivering speech and language therapy within the world can have really positive results.”


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