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AI supports stroke survivors in rebuilding speech

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An app which uses AI to enable stroke survivors to rebuild their speech and language capability at home has been launched, inspired by the personal experience of its creator. 

SpeechFirst supports survivors to build on their speech and language therapy provision through using AI to detect incorrect facial movements and pronunciation and provide real-time tips and recommendations to enable them to make progress.

The app is the first British built creation to make use of AI in speech and language therapy, and with its launch is set to increase the rehab potential of thousands of survivors nationally. Its home-based approach enabling people to continue their rehabilitation remotely, while supervised by their therapist who can access the person’s SpeechFirst dashboard. 

Its creator, Holly Brown, was inspired to develop SpeechFirst by the experiences of her father, who had a stroke aged only 43 which left him with serious communication difficulties. 

“He was in a rehab centre for a little while and had the standard six-week therapy from the NHS, but then was left to his own devices. It’s a postcode lottery depending on where a person lives and what is available, and private speech therapy can be quite expensive,” says Holly. 

“We were well aware of the resource restraints so we looked for whatever was available. There were a few apps out there but they were quite expensive, but for people like my dad they were badly needed.” 

Holly, a consultant at digital leader Capgemini, developed the idea for SpeechFirst and pitched it to her employer as part of its Tech4Positive Futures campaign, which sought ideas to help address society’s biggest issues through technology-led solutions. 

Holly Brown

“We initially chose to specialise in articulation of consonants, consonant pairs and sounds, words and phrases, but the next round of funding will enable us to personalise those words and phrases,” says Holly. 

“We want to enable people to do things like being able to say their wife’s name or their children’s names again, and through using the app and getting the feedback, they can work towards that.” 

The app, which was conceptualised before the pandemic, has taken on increased relevance and importance since lockdown came and therapy has often been postponed or cancelled during the past year, with the impact on resources continuing to be felt. 

“The final round of pitching was in June last year, and at that time we were aware of many people not even getting six week of speech and language therapy, they were maybe getting two at a push, so we hope this will help,” says Holly. 

“This is designed to be done alongside their speech and language therapy, the therapist has access to the back end dashboard, so even if that allows them to stagger sessions more, knowing the person can progress between them, that will help. 

“Longer term, we would like to look at it being a standalone app, perhaps something a carer or family member could have access to, and it would also be great to see if this could go beyond stroke and benefit people with Parkinson’s, other neurological conditions, even autistic children who could use it in schools.”

While the app is available, its route to wider market is set to be some way off due to the extensive regulation that surrounds such innovation. 

“I think one of the biggest challenges is that regulation hasn’t caught up with the technology,” says Holly. 

“With AI, it’s such a constantly adapting field that the regulation just isn’t keeping up, that’s maybe why innovation is lacking. 

“But the ambition remains to get it out there as far and wide as we can, and to keep testing it as widely as we can. We working with a number of speech and language therapists and always welcome feedback.” 

And for app’s inspiration, Holly’s father, SpeechFirst has thankfully passed the test. 

“He feels like a bit of a superstar,” laughs Holly. 

“He’s been testing it out for us and has been involved in everything, from the illustrations testing through to the marketing materials. 

“Even now, he’s still so motivated to keep progressing, he uses a lot of paper-based books, dictionaries, and he’s willing to try anything new. We hope SpeechFirst will benefit people like my dad, but so many others too.” 

 

Inpatient rehab

Adventures in VR for care home residents

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Having fun in the snow and touching the clouds are some of the ways that residents at Exemplar Health Care’s Ribble View care home are using virtual reality technology to relax during lockdown.  

The team at Ribble View, alongside experts from Rescape Innovation, have been using virtual reality (VR) technology, DR.VR, to support therapy sessions in the home in Preston. 

This is part of Exemplar Health Care‘s commitment to investing in the latest life-enriching technology to make every day better for their people. 

Over the past few months, the therapy team at the home has been working with individuals to explore their likes and interests, and tailoring the VR experience to their personal choices.

Individuals can choose from a range of pre-loaded films that are shot in 360 degrees, so that once the headsets are placed over their eyes, they can be fully immersed into a ‘virtual world’.  

Lindsay Abraham, home manager at Ribble View, says: “Before we begin a session we talk to the individual to find out what they like. 

“If someone’s a keen traveller, we can load videos of famous landmarks onto the VR headset, so they can travel around the world from the comfort of their home. 

“The technology allows people to see a 360-degree picture and be fully immersed into the virtual experience.” 

Since the introduction of VR technology at Ribble View, the team has already seen lots of benefits. 

Pamela Hicken, therapist at the home, said: “VR has been well received at Ribble View. Some of our residents get very excited when they see me walking down the hallway with the headset.

“Everyone that’s used it has given positive feedback, and for many of our residents, it’s helped to reduce anxiety and pain. 

“We used the VR headset with one of our residents who was experiencing anxiety. Before the session, they rated themselves as 7/10 for anxiety and 4/10 for pain. 

“During the session, we used a calming snow scene on the headset, and incorporated massage and breathing exercises into the session, and we could see the individual become more relaxed throughout. 

“At the end of the session, they’re anxiety score decreased to 3/10 and pain score to 3/10, and they commented that they found the session very ‘relaxing’.” 

 VR can also be incorporated into physiotherapy sessions to support rehabilitation and mobility. 

Pamela continues: “For residents with athetosis, we’ve seen that their movements have become more purposeful, and residents with limited arm movements have been reaching out to touch things.

“We used the headset with one resident who has limited mobility, and they were moving their neck to look in different directions, and reaching out with their hands. 

“Throughout the session, they made comments such as ‘I want to do it every day’ and ‘this is heaven’. By the end of the session, their anxiety score had reduced by two points.” 

The benefits of virtual reality technology in care homes

DR.VR is a virtual reality distraction therapy that can support pain management and reduce stress and anxiety. 

It uses a headset, which, when worn, transports people to a 3D computer generated environment and immerses them into a virtual ‘world’. 

The technology can provide a safe and therapeutic experience for adults living with a range of neuro-disabilities and mental health needs. 

Adding these meaningful experiences into people’s everyday lives can bring huge health and wellbeing benefits. 

Research also shows that DR.VR can be effective in managing pain, anxiety and stress – the technology transports people to another environment, place or time, which can distract them from their current pain or stresses. 

Clinical nurse manager, Shannon O’Dea, says: “For our service users when they are struggling, DR.VR will help to deescalate and redirect when the environment is too stimulating. DR.VR allows them to get to their safe space through guided meditation, relaxation or distraction.”

About Exemplar Health Care 

Exemplar Health Care is a leading provider of specialist nursing care for adults living with a range of complex and high acuity needs.

They have over 32 community-based, specialist nursing homes and OneCare services which provide person-centred care and rehabilitation that focuses on maximising independence, building everyday living skills and empowering people to live as fulfilled lives as possible.

They support people on their journey from being in hospital or living in a secure setting to community-based living, as well as offering longer term support for people living with degenerative or life-limiting illnesses.

Read more about Exemplar Health Care. 

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Tech

Neuro tech business predicts strong growth

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Advanced neuroscience and digital therapeutics business MindMaze Healthcare has revealed its plans for ‘exponential growth’ through its commercial product portfolio and clinical pipeline. 

The business is a key name in digital neurotheraputics solutions with its development of its game-based software products Rehab DTx, which supports neurorehabilitation, and Neuro DTx aimed at neurorestoration. 

Its serious digital therapeutics (DTx), a combination of neuroscience and AI-powered, immersive game-based activities, are improving clinical outcomes for patients with neurological conditions including stroke, TBI, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MS. 

Working with more than 10,000 patients in 20 countries worldwide, both in hospital and home settings, the Rehab DTx platform and its telerehabilitation service has supported patients around the world during the pandemic through its products’ remote offering. 

MindMaze, founded in 2012, has revealed it is working with leading academic institutions to develop a robust pipeline of clinical evidence and in the next few years expects to have at least three new prescription digital therapeutic solutions for chronic stroke, Parkinson’s, and mild cognitive impairment.

The company is now predicting significant growth in the years ahead through its continued innovation in digital neurotheraputics.

“At MindMaze, we are leading the delivery of digital neurotherapeutics with our groundbreaking solutions for some of the most challenging neurological conditions,” says Tej Tadi, founder and chief executive at MindMaze. 

“We are differentiated in the burgeoning digital therapeutics industry. MindMaze has a global commercial footprint that is generating considerable revenue today and will drive explosive revenue growth in the next years.”

MindMaze’s products are in use in inpatient units in the United States, including Johns Hopkins University Hospital and Mt. Sinai Health Systems. 

In addition to Rehab DTx and Neuro DTx solutions, MindMaze also offers smart peripherals and quantitative assessments that allow tracking of motor and cognitive capacities. 

The data from these assessments is then analysed on an AI cloud-based platform and returned in a digestible form to patients and clinicians. 

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Brain injury

First digital health support platform for ABI launched

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The first digital health intervention for families affected by ABI has been launched, with a view to national roll-out in the coming months. 

CBIT In Hand has been created to provide immediate, tailored information via a mobile device to families of children and young people who have been affected by concussion and/or acquired brain injury (ABI). 

After three years of planning by the Child Brain Injury Trust, the app went live last week when it was launched at the CBIT virtual conference, and is being trialed in Alder Hey and Birmingham Children’s Hospital for the next three months. 

CBIT in Hand will then be rolled out to 19 hospitals nationally, with more continuing to come on board. 

CBIT in Hand, which can be accessed by QR code or downloaded from App stores, is being targeted at A&E departments and major trauma units, to ensure families can find the digital information, resources and support they need instantly during the most difficult early stages of their loved one’s injury. 

Statistics show that each year, 500,000 children and young people attend A&E each year with a head injury, for whom the CBIT in Hand app could prove invaluable to give the information they need.

And for the families of the 40,000 children each year who sustain ABI, the app enables them to access information  or refer themselves to CBIT for support – a process which previously was usually done via third party referral – and ensures they receive an immediate response from the charity’s team. 

CBIT in Hand marks a significant investment for CBIT, with £130,000 already committed – supported by the National Lottery Community Fund and law firm Leigh Day – but a further £400,000 being sought to enable it to continue to scale and support more families nationally. 

“Each year, our team supports 1,400 families, which is great, but clearly our resources need to reach further. That was one of the main reasons in creating this app – to reach more families who need us, without diluting the service we provide,” says Lisa Turan, chief executive of the Child Brain Injury Trust. 

“By creating CBIT in Hand, we can ensure access is given to  personalised resources that are needed without having to wait, and if a family needs to be referred to us, then that process is now much easier and instant. Rather than face the ‘fear factor’ felt by many of having to phone organisations, they can now get in touch with us with a tap of their mobile. 

“While there is information out there for families of children with brain injuries, it can be inconsistent. Through creating this instant digital access, we’re taking away some of the burden on the NHS to pass on this information. So if they need advice about aspects of brain injury, on benefits, school support, local services, or how to connect with other families, that can all be accessed via CBIT in Hand.” 

Now in pilot, CBIT in Hand has been a huge undertaking for the CBIT team, who have worked closely with families and medical partners along the way. 

“We’ve put our heart and soul into creating this, it’s been three years in the planning and we’ve worked alongside Alder Hey and Birmingham Children’s Hospital for over a year to get it right. We’ve done extensive remote testing across the UK with parents of children with ABI, so we are looking forward to rolling it out further after the pilot,” says Lisa. 

“The clinicians we’ve worked with have been so helpful, they all carry their phones so will show families our QR code so they can access our resources straight away. There will also be posters up for families to scan the QR code.  

“We think this app will be so valuable for many families – for those needing a lighter touch, they may find everything they need there, but for those who need more, they can refer and access our specialist team.

“We’re so pleased this has been possible – in time, we’d like to build it out further but will need investment to do that. But for now, we’re really looking forward to national roll-out and to extending our support more than ever before.” 

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