In an Australian first, a joint project between Curtin University of Technology and the State Health Research Advisory Council (SHRAC) has shown that early intense therapy can significantly benefit the communication recovery of stroke patients.
Dr Erin Godecke, from Curtin’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, who completed this research for her PhD, said intense early stage therapy could also reduce the need for future health services.
“Stroke survivors often suffer a breakdown in their communication abilities, known as aphasia, and receive very limited therapy for this condition,” she said.
“Aphasia affects a person’s speech production, comprehension, and reading and writing abilities which can be extremely frustrating.
“Usual care intervention for aphasia in the early recovery phase involves an average of only 11 minutes of therapy per week.
“Rehabilitation for this condition is ad-hoc and usually takes place later in the recovery process, losing valuable time in the neurorecovery process.
This research has found that patients who receive intense therapy at an early stage after a stroke use more words and have a better vocabulary in addition to having improved comprehension scores and verbal output.”
As part of Dr Godecke’s ongoing study, stroke survivors were given five hours of therapy per week on either a one-on-one or small group basis.
“Stroke survivors with aphasia can be left with severe disabilities and are up to three times more likely to suffer from depression,” she said.
“Not all stroke survivors are assessed for communication difficulties at an early stage and as a result, these survivors do not have the opportunity to take the best advantage of the pivotal early neuro-recovery period.
“Our study has found that the treatment patients receive improves their communication abilities and also helps their quality of life.
Dr Godecke’s PhD research was the pilot study that led to the early intervention program funded by SHRAC.
“Our goal is to improve stroke services in WA and provide stroke survivors with the right intervention, in the right place, at the right time,” she said.
“Early intensive treatment for aphasia is not being investigated anywhere in Australia, and patients can benefit from using their communication abilities in a supportive treatment environment.
“The program encourages a ‘use it’ or ‘lose it’ approach to intervention.”