A team of speech-language pathologists (SLP) and a human-computer interaction design specialist from universities in the UK report on pilot research into the feasibility of improving the social participation of people with aphasia (PWA) by introducing distance communication over videolink and enhancing it using Supported Communication materials/techniques on personally relevant topics. The researchers sought to determine participation changes following intervention by studying outcomes on 5 measures — communication confidence, social network, aphasia-related quality of life, life participation, and mood.

The researchers employed Skype for distance communication. Subjects – 29 persons in the chronic stage of aphasia – received an introductory two-hour Skype training, which was followed by 16 hours of distance communication that was supported by an online SLP or student facilitator. For each participant, intervention was personalized by individualizing goals in technology use, communication, and participation; and an observational methodology was used to assess performance at baseline, immediately following intervention, and 8 weeks following intervention. Two of the outcome measures – communication confidence and social network – were designated primary; the others – aphasia-related quality of life, life participation, and mood – were subsidiary. In data analysis, one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) were used for data that were distributed normally; elsewhere, Wilcoxon Signed Ranks analyses were employed.

Twenty seven of the 29 participants (93.1%) of subjects completed the study. Outcome data analysis shows that, in the mean, subjects showed significantly more social contacts, more life participation and higher aphasia-related quality of life both immediately following intervention and at maintenance eight weeks later. Communication confidence also improved significantly post-intervention, but those improvements were not maintained at 8 weeks. Mood remained substantially unchanged throughout.

This pilot study illustrates how combining supported communication techniques with distance communication over Skype can be an effective way of helping PWA improve social participation. Follow-on research, with randomized controlled studies and larger subject pools, is indicated to establish clinical efficacy, cost effectiveness, and requirements for long-term benefits.

For further reading:   M. Cruice, C. Woolf, A. Caute, et al., 2020,

Preliminary outcomes from a pilot study of personalised online supported conversation for participation intervention for people with aphasia.  Aphasiology, 34(8), https://doi.org/10.1080/02687038.2020.1795076

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