'Virtual chat partner' provides therapy for aphasia language-disorder patients


About 1 million people across the U.S. have the language disorder aphasia.

Temple University researchers are helping her practice her speech continually, but health insurance plans only cover a limited number of visits to a therapist.

That's where a virtual program comes in.

"It's all part of a movement to help people get the continued stimulation that they need in order to maintain the maximum ability to communicate," said Temple University Communication Sciences Professor Nadine Martin.

Researchers must first "teach" the virtual therapist a wide-ranging vocabulary. The computer also needs to recognize different pronunciations. Speech therapy has been moving toward virtual rehabilitation for years.

Researchers say their project is different because it involves real conversations.

"They are actually put in a situation, which we hope is going to be natural, that requires that they come up with the correct words in the correct order," said Emily Keshner, temple physical therapy professor.

According to the biggest study to date for people with aphasia, regular consistent therapy has been shown to be significantly better than short-term treatment.

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