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Analysing aphasia to improve tech-assisted patient outcomes

Bruce Willis Aphasia Dubai.jpg
Demand for assistive technology in aphasia treatment demonstrates rise in market value for healthcare mobile app developers.

Hollywood actor Bruce Willis’ recent medical diagnosis generated a global buzz, bringing to light a little-known but important condition that affects speech. Aphasia is a communication disorder triggered by several factors including head injury, stroke, or a degenerative disease leading to permanent damage. 

To put numbers into perspective, the National Aphasia Association states that at least two million people in the US are living with aphasia, out of which 225,000 were caused by strokes. 

“Each type of aphasia affects a specific area in the brain, so when this is taken over by any disease or pathology, the patient will present either motor, sensory, conductive, or nominal type. Stroke, brain tumour, multiple sclerosis, or any inflammatory disease can affect any area in the brain resulting in special aphasia according to the area involved,” said Dr Khalid Al-Saffar, a specialist in the Department of Neurology at Dubai-based Medcare Hospital Al Safa. 

Rising demand for app-based solutions 

To date, language and speech therapy remains an effective treatment for aphasia patients, and statistics by Fortune Business Insights revealed a strong demand for dedicated software and mobile apps. The US Speech Therapy Market forecasts a CAGR of 5.8 per cent between 2021 and 2028, valued at US$6.08 billion in 2028, paving a strong route for manufacturers and software developers in healthcare. While there are no specific figures available in the Middle East region, experts are confident of the rising trends. 

Assistive technology featuring the use of computers, smartphones, software, and related mobile apps could help pathologists and clinicians administer the right treatment and help people with aphasia communicate better. 

The applications themselves take on different interfaces for an engaging and interactive patient experience. These can be in the form of games to practice speech and language-related tasks and exercises; and voice control that offers unlimited practice sessions without a speech therapist for articulation and pronunciation. Video therapy modules give patients a visual representation of tongue and throat movements, while flashcards assist with memory recall, learning new words and overcoming speech-language difficulties. Flashcards are particularly helpful for youth affected by aphasia as they can be modified to their needs. 

The rise of technology in healthcare sparked research into virtual reality combined with speech therapy. Combined with apps, these augmentative tools offer alternative forms of communication and give patients a different approach to identifying words and holding conversations. 

Inclusion is essential for patients 

Dr Al-Saffar explained that the region has a long way to go in addressing aphasia and executing the right treatments to retain the quality of life in patients. “The treating physician needs to address the symptoms and begin medical treatments guided by a speech therapist,” he added. 

Once a patient is diagnosed with aphasia, the impact extends to family members and can cause a certain degree of mental stress, and strain on relationships. Dr Al-Saffar emphasised that practitioners need to ensure family members, and caregivers if any, are included in the rehabilitation process for better patient outcomes. This involves offering up-to-date information, raising awareness, and educating them on the current situation and future expectations. 

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is the inability to speak caused by sustained trauma to the head or the result of a degenerative disease. Several celebrities are known to suffer from the condition, such as Hollywood actors Bruce Willis, Sharon Stone, and Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke. The condition is divided into four categories — motor, sensory, conductive, and nominal:
 
Motor aphasia: The patient is unable express themselves and cannot pronounce words properly but can understand others’ language or command. 
Sensory aphasia: The patient cannot understand others’ language or commands but can pronounce words properly. 
Nominal dysphasia or aphasia: Patients can understand others, speak and pronounce words properly, but are unable to recall the names of objects. 
Conductive dysphasia: Patients can understand, speak and pronounce words, but tend to mispronounce words. 
 

Identifying symptoms of aphasia 

A clinical examination with the following steps can reveal the distinct types of aphasia in patients: 

-        Ask the patient to talk about himself — what is his name, age, and address to detect his speech response. 
-        Give commands. Patients should respond to instructions such as closing their eyes, raising their arms, etc. to detect their level of understanding. 
-        Ask them to read a newspaper loudly to detect minimal defects in motor speech. 
-        Ask them to respond to written commands to detect sensory aphasia. 
-        Ask a patient to name a brand of item, like eyeglasses, shirt, or pen to detect the nominal aphasia. 

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