New research suggests that personalized therapy via an iPad app can benefit people with aphasia, a brain disorder that seriously inhibits language.

Each year, an estimated 200,000 people acquire aphasia, which is usually the result of a stroke.

The research further supports the idea that the brain is far more plastic and moldable than previously imagined, and it presents a simple, relatively inexpensive way for people to improve their long-term health.

Researchers at Boston University’s Sargent College gave 51 aphasia sufferers an iPad. The goal of the study was to determine how effective iPads could be in delivering personalized therapy to people with aphasia, and to determine whether a structured iPad-based software therapy program that includes homework leads to significant gains in overall communication.


Participants were split into two groups: a control group and an experimental group. All participants had a weekly one-hour session with a clinician using the iPad therapy. But the people in the experimental group were also asked to practice a set of personalized tasks at home using the iPad software.

They showed significant improvements on a range of standard tests for language, memory, executive function, and attention. The control group did not experience any significant changes on those tests.

The most encouraging sign? The people who were more severely affected showed more improvements after therapy than those who were less impaired, according to speech professor Swathi Kiran, director of the university’s Aphasia Research Laboratory and coauthor of the study.

That’s significant, she says, because people who are worse off after brain damage are the most likely to be written off, and this study shows that they should not be.

The study further finds that even those participating in the control group, who used the iPad therapy only during their weekly meetings with a clinician, experienced some improvement.


All types of aphasia sufferers need better long-term care, Kiran says. When someone has a stroke or other aphasia-causing injury, insurance typically covers only a patient’s acute care and maybe a couple of months of rehabilitation. Unless you have fantastic insurance, she says, you’re on your own after that.

The result is that there is a huge problem in providing the continued communication rehabilitation that those with aphasia require.

But as neuroscientists are realizing, the brain can be worked and improved even after years of decline or decreased ability. However, Kiran notes, it takes a bit of strategy and a whole lot of work to make progress.

“In the context of what we know about neuroplasticity, the main thing is you have to have repeated practice, repeated exposure, and you need to do it in a very structured way,” she says.


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