Virtual Reality for stroke survivors with aphasia

Researchers have developed a virtual reality world, which can help stroke survivors suffering from aphasia (a range of speech, language and communication problems).

Screenshot from Eva Park virtual world. It shows a collection of avatars sitting in a tree house.The multi-user virtual work allows people with aphasia to practise their speech and to establish social connections.

Funded by the Stroke Association, the project is based at London’s City University and won the Tech4Good People’s Choice Award in 2014.

“Aphasia is a language problem that's typically caused by stroke and impairs all aspects of language. It makes it difficult for the person to talk, to understand speech and also to read and write,” says Professor Jane Marshall, who leads the project.

“Aphasia is a devastating consequence of stroke, which can isolate the individual and, in many cases, lead to problems with depression, and low mood, and feelings of social isolation,” adds Professor Marshall who was awarded an OBE for services to aphasia in 2018.

How virtual reality can help aphasia sufferers

Professor Marshall was keen to explore ways in which technology could re-engage people with communication. “We had a collaboration going with colleagues in the school of math and computer science and engineering at City, where we were starting to explore different ways of using technology to support the therapy for people with aphasia,” she says.

One of the team members had seen Second Life being used therapeutically, which sparked the idea behind EVA Park, and City secured funding from the Stroke Association to build it.

The virtual city was co-created with aphasia sufferers.

“A big message from that process was that we should focus on social uses of language; that it should be a place which is all about getting together with others and meeting and having a laugh and having opportunities for different sorts of communication,” says Professor Marshall.

The platform allows people to create a customised avatar and to explore different areas of EVA Park including houses, a treehouse disco and the Town Square.

What’s next for EVA Park

City piloted EVA Park with 20 people with aphasia before winning the Tech4Good People’s Choice Award in 2014. “It [T4G] created a lot of awareness about Eva Park. We go to conferences where colleagues from Australia know all about Eva Park,” says Professor Marshall.  

“It was a lovely validation for us, and I think it was very heartening for people with aphasia because it is a hidden problem,” she adds.

The team continues to evolve and test EVA Park today exploring how it can be used for delivering the different speech and language therapies, and to provide social support.

“We’ve had four different groups in different UK settings using Eva Park to meet every two weeks for social support and conversation and to reflect on how aphasia affects their lives [and] we've got some lovely positive feedback,” says Professor Marshall.

While EVA Park isn’t yet commercially available, 30 services are using it, and City continues to gather feedback and explore interventions to use within the virtual world.

Sign up for our FREE webinar for stroke survivors, and their carers

A stroke can impact in a number of ways. It is the commonest form of aphasia. People who are affected by aphasia, and can cause issues of cognitive and physical impairment and is a common cause of anxiety and depression.

Technology can be part of the solution. Our free webinar will showcase the Stroke Association's online tool My Stroke Guide, which offers information as well as access to peer support from other stroke survivors.

AbilityNet volunteer Lawrence King will be on hand to share his experiences of helping stroke survivors find solutions that can help them to adapt.

The webinar will take place on March 31 2020. 

Sign up to our free webinar for stroke survivors and their carers

How AbilityNet can help stroke survivors

AbilityNet has a range of products and services that can help you make tech more accessible, including consultancy, design reviews, auditing and user testing.

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people.

Call our free Helpline. Our friendly, knowledgeable staff will discuss any computer problem and do their best to come up with a solution. We’re open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm on 0800 048 7642.

Arrange a home visit. We have a network of AbilityNet ITCanHelp volunteers who can help if you have technical issues with your computer systems. They can come to your home, or help you over the phone.

We have a range of factsheets which talk in detail about technology that might help you, which can be downloaded for free. You may find our factsheets talking about voice recognition and keyboard alternatives useful.

My Computer My Way. A free interactive guide to all the accessibility features built into current desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Related Factsheets from AbilityNet

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Support for stroke survivors

Call the Stroke Association Helpline: 0303 3033 100

Connect to other stroke survivors and carers via My Stroke Guide

Search the stroke association for local support by postcode

Think Ahead Stroke: 01942 824888

Factsheets from the Stroke Association