Smartphone app spells new hope for stroke victims needing speech therapy

Ross Lydall
Sarah Scott, who had a stroke nine years ago, with mother Joanie: Twitter

Stroke patients have achieved “significant” improvements in reading skills by using a smartphone app designed by London academics.

Some participants in a trial of UCL’s iReadMore app saw their ability to identify words improve by as much as 25 per cent. The app, which will soon be available as a free download for Android phones, could enable thousands of patients to undertake unlimited therapy at home. Stroke patients typically need 100 hours of speech and language therapy but the NHS only provides 12 hours free.

One patient, Sarah Scott, who suffered a stroke nine years ago aged 18 at school, said the app helped her become more confident and boosted her independence. Ms Scott, from Welwyn Garden City, Herts, previously told how it could be “really scary” to talk to strangers and encounter unexpected words, and she had had to go to America for intensive therapy.

She said she would “definitely” recommend the app, adding: “You can feel very isolated and dependent on others without the ability to read, write or speak. Some people only get six weeks’ NHS speech therapy after discharge so it’s good to have something to continue.” Her mother Joanie said: “This will definitely help people, particularly in the early days.”

Twenty-one patients took part in the UCL trial. They used the app, which flashes up words and links them with sounds or pictures, for 68 hours over two months. There was an average 8.7 per cent improvement in recognition of “trained” words, and improved reading speeds. Reading was further improved when patients received a small electrical current to stimulate their brain at the same time. Dr Zoe Woodhead, of UCL’s Institute of Neurology, said: “This reading therapy significantly improves people’s ability to relearn and remember words.”