In 2016 China had approximately 4,300 speech and language therapists to look after a population of 1.3 billion people. In other words, there are 300,000 patients for every therapist in China. Compare this to the US where there are 180,000 speech and language therapists for a population of almost 325 million.
This shocking lack of access to speech and language therapy is common to many countries. I have been acutely aware of this while working as a speech and language therapist in the US, Ireland, India, and Singapore over the past 19 years. I had been searching for something that would help to address this problem when I came across multi-award winning apps called Talk Around It that help people speak again after illness or injury. These apps are developed by a small Irish company called Neuro Hero, founded by Dr Aviva Cohen who was motivated to find affordable home based therapy after her husband had a stroke. The apps were designed by speech and language therapists to help people with “word finding difficulties.” This is the feeling that a word is “on the tip of their tongue” but you cannot say it out loud. A group of experts spent two years identifying key evidence-based exercises and working with designers. The result is a low cost rehabilitation tool that provides effective speech and language therapy that can be used in the clinic or in your own home.
In 2014 I began working as the senior speech and language therapy consultant to Neuro Hero Ltd. My first task was to test the effectiveness of Talk Around It, then I helped to develop new features. After we had tested and validated the new features we began translating and adapting the apps so that they could be used by speakers of different languages and from diverse cultures. So far we have developed apps in UK English, American English, Spanish, Norwegian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Hindi. My recent work in Beijing has motivated me to look for opportunities to adapt Talk Around It apps for China.
When I first encountered Talk Around It I was impressed the easy way the apps presented a widely used rehabilitation therapy. I also liked the simple layout that enabled families to deliver effective therapy at home. The exercises are based on naming images with the help of clues and cues. However, as a healthcare professional, I was keen to run tests to measure the effectiveness of the apps; so I was delighted when Neuro Hero engaged me to conduct a three month test in a nursing home with patients who had lost their ability to speak due to dementia. Every day a carer used the app with each person for 30 minutes and I monitored the progress closely. The results were even better than I expected: the participants increased their ability to name objects correctly by between 30 percent and 50 percent. In addition, staff and family members reported a significant improvement in the general mood of participants, they also showed an increased desire to socialize and to engage in other therapies.
I now share the ambitions of the company to make affordable, effective speech and language therapy available to as many people as possible, in as many languages as possible. We are exploring opportunities to develop a version of the apps in Mandarin.
This article is written by Milind Sonawane, Sr. SLT & Therapy Director at LIH Olivia’s Place, Beijing. To find out more about the app and the author, go to www.neurohero.com and www.lih-oliviasplace.com.