3 Ways to Integrate Apps into Aphasia Therapy

 4 min read

Think about your own life as a functional adult in the world today. Do you use a smartphone or tablet? You’re probably reading this on one right now. If not, you likely have one within arm’s reach.

These devices help us to communicate and connect with one another – through text messaging, social media, and even that strange little Phone app that occasionally rings. They help us to remember our appointments, our shopping lists, and our vacations. They give us driving directions, get strangers to pick us up in their cars, and tell us where we should go for dinner tonight.

But what can mobile technology and apps do for people living with aphasia?

3 ways to integrate apps into aphasia therapy

A Framework for Using Apps for Aphasia Therapy

Let’s consider 3 uses of technology as it applies to aphasia treatment. We can use it to help people with aphasia:

  1. Communicate,
  2. Connect, and
  3. Improve.

It looks a little like this framework familiar to therapists:

  1. Compensate,
  2. Participate, and
  3. Remediate.
Communicate, Connect, and Improve is like Compensate, Participate, and Remediate

Remediation, compensation, and participation have always been the goals of speech therapy, so now we can simply find ways that technology can aid us in achieving those goals.

Learn more about these goals of speech therapy when you read: Speech Therapy: What to Expect & How to Ask for What You Want

1) Communicate

AAC apps can be used for communication

To communicate, we have been using technology for quite some time with traditional augmentative communication (AAC) devices. While there are now some great apps for storing or generating messages, the tools I’ve seen used most successfully aren’t intended for AAC at all.

Taking photos is a great way to communicate, along with pointing to maps, and referencing the calendar. There are whiteboard apps and talking photo albums that are very useful for communication. Built-in accessibility features like text-to-speech and dictation make it easier for people with aphasia to understand information and express their thoughts.

2) Connect

These tools for communication are essential for helping people with aphasia to connect with others, but there are other technologies actually designed for the purpose. In addition to voice calls, now we have e-mail, text messaging, Facebook, Instagram, and Skype – all available in the palm of your hand.

Many people with aphasia were using these tools before their strokes, and others would love to learn them now. They can engage with photos of their grandkids with a “like”– if they have the confidence to try. They can respond to an email or text message with a pre-stored response, or start a video call that lets them communicate through gesture or facial expression – if we teach them how.

There are even online support groups like Aphasia Recovery Connection (ARC) that allow people with aphasia to see that there are others out there like them, and interact at all hours of the day.

3) Improve

Therapy apps can be used to improve aphasia

Through increased practice of meaningful communication, language may get better. But there are plenty of tools available now that actually use evidence-based techniques to allow people with aphasia to do speech therapy exercises as much as they want – to improve.

The traditional hour of therapy a week can now be 20 hours with aphasia apps. It may not be the same, but research is showing that it’s effective. We know it takes lots of repetition to change the brain, and apps for aphasia therapy are letting our clients take control of their recovery.

The life participation model of aphasia therapy includes impairment-based therapy, so we need to include impairment-based apps in the programs we offer. We should be well-versed in what’s available and how to support our clients in using it.

Apps for aphasia therapy let us check in on scores and adjust difficulty or tasks, as well as provide us with valuable stimuli for our own interventions. Knowing our clients are getting the repetition they need at home, we can use our time in therapy to focus on problem-solving or training strategies.

Resources for Integrating Apps into Aphasia Therapy

Technology is not going away and offers innumerable benefits, so we need to do our best to keep up-to-date and feel comfortable including apps in our therapy. It can truly enhance the lives of people with aphasia to help them do the three things they desperately want to do: communicate, connect, and improve.

Here at Tactus Therapy, we give you many resources to keep yourself current with integrating technology into aphasia therapy. Or become a member of MedBridge Education (use code TACTUS for a great rate) and take Megan Sutton’s CEU courses  Integrating Apps into Aphasia Therapy and Communicate and Connect: Using Technology with Aphasia that are based on this framework.

Help Clients Improve with Aphasia Apps

We offer a wide range of apps for aphasia therapy. Not sure where to start? Answer a few questions in our App Finder to get recommendations based on your needs.

This content was originally presented as a 5-minute Share & Care speech on March 17, 2017 in Orlando, Florida at the AphasiaAccess Leadership Summit.

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Megan S. Sutton, MS, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and co-founder of Tactus Therapy. She is an international speaker, writer, and educator on the use of technology in adult medical speech therapy. Megan believes that technology plays a critical role in improving aphasia outcomes and humanizing clinical services.