Virtual Speech and Language Therapy Could Help Stroke Victims Find Words

A researcher from AIT’s Software Research Institute is exploring how augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), can be used to help stroke victims.

Conor Keighrey, a PhD candidate within the Software Research Institute at Athlone Institute of Technology (Photo Nathan Cafolla, Athlone Institute of Technology)

A researcher from Athlone Institute of Technology’s Software Research Institute is exploring how immersive technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), can be used to help stroke victims find words. 

Conor Keighrey, a PhD candidate, is applying these technologies to healthcare with the goal of helping people with aphasia, a type of language impairment brought on by stroke, recover their speech. 

Using a game development engine, the Ballinasloe-native has created a multimedia speech and language assessment capable of testing semantic memory – a type of long-term memory that stores general information about the world. 

The speech and language assessment, which is ordinarily paper-based, manifests as a virtual speech and language therapist who examines users’ ability to understand image and word pairings. 

Delivered through AR and VR headsets and a hand-held tablet device, users are shown a sequence of images, such as an eye, and asked to match it to its bedfellow - in this case a pair of glasses. 

When users select the correct answer, they hear positive affirmations from the virtual speech and language therapist. With VR, the user is fully immersed in the experience; with AR, information is superimposed on a real-world environment. 

Curious to understand users’ experiences of these immersive technologies more fully, the PhD candidate decided to measure their physiological responses to stress, such as increased heart rate, during the virtual speech and language therapy. 

His findings were recently published in IEEE Transactions on Multimedia suggest that AR and tablet users benefit most from the experience. 

“These results demonstrate how embracing new and emerging technologies can unlock a variety of untapped metrics which can deliver a more holistic overview of assessment performance to a speech and language pathologist,” he explains. 

According to the 33-year-old Galway man, the transformative potential of immersive technologies in how we acquire skills and experience and explore hard-to-grasp concepts, is starting to be recognised. 

“The importance of these technologies has never been greater. Students across the world are utilising e-learning platforms and video conferencing rooms to attend lectures due to the current COVID-19 pandemic,” he says. 

“Conor’s research has contributed fundamental knowledge in user perceptual quality of multimedia experiences,” says supervisor Dr Niall Murray, a leading researcher in the field of immersive technologies and a Science Foundation Ireland Funded Investigator in the ADAPT and CONFIRM centres. 

“Getting a paper published in the top ranked multimedia journal in the world is a huge achievement and a testament to the quality of research ongoing in Athlone Institute of Technology.  

“This is a significant milestone for Conor as he enters the final stages of his PhD. I look forward to supporting him in the next steps of his career and would like to congratulate him on this fantastic achievement on behalf of his co-supervisor Dr Ronan Flynn and myself.” 

Conor Keighrey is an Irish Research Council Government of Ireland postgraduate scholarship recipient and is expected to achieve his PhD in autumn 2020. 

An early access version of his paper, entitled “A Physiology-based QoE Comparison of Interactive Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Tablet-based Applications” is available on IEEE Xplore and the AIT Research Repository (Open Access).