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Current guidelines recommend that individuals who suffer a stroke begin receiving speech therapy as soon as possible after the event in a bid to prevent this function from being lost forever.
However, new research carried out at the University of Muenster in Germany has shown that even if there is a wait of several months before speech and language therapy begins, an intensive course of treatment could still have significant benefits for patients' communication abilities and overall wellbeing.
Scientists recruited 156 participants who had suffered a stroke within the last six months and were still struggling to recover their speech. Around half of these individuals were immediately enrolled into an intensive three-week speech therapy programme, while the other 50 per cent were placed on a waiting list.
Before the three-week monitoring period began, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire detailing how well they were able to take part in everyday tasks that required communication through speech, such as asking for an item in a shop or booking an appointment over the phone.
During the following 21 days, those in the intensive therapy group received at least ten hours of speech therapy from an expert each week, as well as five extra hours they could complete on the computer by themselves, while those on the waiting list received therapy for 90 minutes a week as part of their normal care.
Once the study period was up, it was found that 44 per cent of patients in the intensive speech therapy group had experienced significant improvements to their communication abilities compared to their counterparts who were still on the waiting list. At a six-month follow-up appointment, these improvements were maintained, with patients and their partners also reporting a boost to their quality of life.
Caterina Breitenstein, lead author of the study, commented: "Until now, a lack in evidence has severely hampered stroke survivors' access to language rehabilitation services. This demonstrates that intensive practice is the key."
Written by Martin Lambert
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