Using immersive virtual reality headset for treatment of word finding difficulties in aphasia therapy

Authors: Anni Heinikoski (1), Tytti Parviainen (1), Jussi Auvinen (2) and Matti Lehtihalmes (1)

Affiliations: (1) Research Unit of Logopedics, University of Oulu, Finland (2) Peili Vision Oy


Background and aims: New technology will provide many opportunities to provide highly personalized interventions for patients with various motor and cognitive disorders, e.g. aphasia. Teletherapy using true or virtual environments, avatars and virtual therapists has been shown as effective as face-to-face methods to provide therapeutic services for patients with aphasia (Marshall et al., 2018; Safro et al., 2018). In addition, these methods have been shown highly acceptable to clients (Amaya et al., 2018). Virtual reality has been a part of neurological rehabilitation for decays already. However, in vast majority of studies, 2-D or 3-D computer environments are used in motor or cognitive rehabilitation. In the present pilot study, we will compare traditional face-to-face picture naming exercises by the table and immersive context-based virtual environments using head-mounted display for treatment of word-finding difficulties in patients with aphasia.

Methods: Four-weeks intervention (5 days/week, one hour/day) will be provided for three patients with non-fluent or anomic aphasia. In all sessions, participants will practice using two methods. One part consists of 20 minutes of traditional face-to-face therapy by the table using 15 pictures of common things used in kitchen (e.g. kitchen devices and cutlery). In another part (also 20 minutes), participants will empty in virtual kitchen environment a shopping basket with foodstuff to fridge or food cabinet by picking all 15 items with tracking device and naming those items simultaneously. Before the therapy, type and severity of aphasia will be assessed using Western Aphasia Battery (WAB) and naming skills using Boston Naming Test (BNT). In addition, an external list of nouns from An Object and Action Naming Battery (Drucks & Masterson, 2000) will be used to evaluate fluctuation of the naming during three consecutive days before therapy. The same methods will be used at the end of the four-weeks intervention. During the therapy, a cued naming procedure (Marshall et al., 2018) will be used to elicitate word finding. All therapy sessions will be recorded. Correct words produced during the all sessions will be calculated as well as the number of cues needed. In both methods, total time of each exercise (15 words) will be measured. In the virtual reality exercises, the patients use an Oculus GO virtual reality headset and a controller. The researchers use a Samsung tablet to monitor the participants’ virtual reality exercises in real time and they are able to see the environment where the participants are exercising. The virtual reality environment is created by Peili Vision Oy and it has been tested in aphasia therapy by speech and language pathologists. However, the studied exercise method where the patients name objects and then move them to their correct places is novel.

Results and main contribution: The study will be proceeded in spring 2019. Results will be discussed at the conference.


Amaya, A., Woolf, C., Devane, N., Galliers, J., Talbot, R, Wilson, S., & Marshall, J. (2018). Receiving aphasia intervention in a virtual environment: the participants’ perspective. Aphasiology, 32, 538-558. doi:10.1080/02687038.2018.1431831

Druks, J., & Masterson, J. (2000). An Object and Action Naming Battery. London: Psychology Press.

Marshall, J., Devane, N., Edmonds, L., Talbot, R., Wilson, S., Woolf, C., & Zwart, N. (2018). Delivering word retrieval therapies for people with aphasia in a virtual communication environment. Apahsiology, 32, 1054-1974. doi: 10.1080/02687038.2018.1488237

Safro, F. S., Ulasavets, U., Opare-Sem, O. K., & Ovbiagele, B. (2018). Tele-rehabilitation after stroke: An updated systematic review of the literature. Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, 27, 2306-2318. doi: 10.1016/j.jstrokecerebrovasdis.2018.05.013