Stroke survivors with communication difficulties may be able to receive extended treatment if a study proves the effectiveness of a computer based approach to delivering intensive speech and language therapy.

If successful, researchers predict that use of computer based speech and language therapy could save the NHS £37 million over a 10 year period.

Researchers in the Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare and the Clinical Research Trials Unit at the University of Sheffield in conjunction with academics at the University of Manchester and Glasgow Caledonian University are about to embark on a four year trial to study the benefits of computer based treatments over and above usual speech and language therapy for people who have suffered a stroke.

Dr Rebecca Palmer from the University of Sheffield, a specialist speech and language therapist with over 15 years’ experience of working with stroke survivors is leading the project.

Dr Palmer said

“One in three stroke survivors are left with the communication disorder ‘aphasia’ meaning they find it difficult to understand, speak, read and write.

“I regularly see the devastating effects of being unable to communicate and have always felt that there is the potential to do so much more with extended treatment opportunities”.

“Our study is hoping to find out whether technology can make a significant difference to speech and language therapy, providing a more cost effective treatment than is currently available on the NHS.”

The next phase of the project, named Big CACTUS (Cost Effectiveness of Aphasia Computer Treatment versus Usual Stimulation) will launch on 24th October and requires the research team to recruit 285 people with aphasia from across the UK to take part in the study.

The study will use Steps Consulting Ltd ‘StepbyStep’ programme, which has been designed to help people who have had a stroke practise exercises to improve their ability to talk. The software is set up to meet individual needs by a specialist speech and language therapist so that the person with aphasia can manage their own rehabilitation. Volunteers and speech therapy assistants provide ongoing support for patients using the computer software.

The Big CACTUS project has received £1.5 million from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and Tavistock Trust for Aphasia to conduct the study.