Investigators from the Aphasia Research Laboratory at Boston University have published a focused review of technology for communication rehabilitation after acquired brain injury. In it, they direct particular attention to how advanced therapeutic technologies may influence clinicians’ intervention choices as well as their patients’ therapeutic use patterns; and they discuss outcome benefits found to date in research literature, and propose ways of leveraging technology to personalize rehabilitation in the future.

The article reviews 31 selected articles published between 1980 and 2016 that utilized technology-based interventions to treat either language or language-cognitive involvement in persons with acquired brain damage. The authors summarize in tabular form key characteristics of these studies, such as sample sizes, subject demographics, study types, treatment characteristics, and main results. Taxonomically, they identify 23 studies (74.2%) as targeting a single language domain (e.g., reading), 6 (19.4%) – multiple language domains, and 4 (12.9%) – language plus cognition domains. The technologies employed range from software developed for use in research settings to commercially marketed products and downloadable free apps.

A majority of study subjects showed improvements following intervention, which is especially noteworthy given the acknowledged variability in research designs, methodologies, outcome measure, settings, and technologies. In the words of the authors, “… the studies consistently demonstrated improvement and various degrees of generalization. Generalization can be considered a beneficial effect of treatment since it demonstrates efficiency for showing improvements beyond what was directly targeted.”

Concluding sections of the review suggest additional ways of structuring and personalizing future communication rehabilitation. Opportunity areas include: [i] tailoring interventions based in part on user deficit profiles; [ii] giving interactive homework assignments that patients may access and use for therapy autonomously; [iii] boosting treatment intensity by promoting increased engagement time outside the clinic; and [iv] documenting cost-effectiveness of rehabilitation services delivered via such technologically-based programs.

For further reading:  C. A. Des Roches, S. Kiran. 2017. Technology-based rehabilitation to improve communication after acquired brain injuryFrontiers in Neuroscience, vol. 11, art. 382, 1–17.

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