Building on other studies, researchers in Germany challenged the assumption that speech therapy can only help within the first few months after a stroke. Working with people who were experiencing communications problems more than six months after a stroke, half of the participants received 15 hours of therapy weekly for a three-week period. The other half received only 1.5 hours per week as part of their normal care.
Compared to the group who didn't receive intensive speech therapy, 44% of those who received therapy "significantly improved their communication ability," according to a Reuters Health article, and "remained stable during the six-month follow-up after the therapy sessions." In addition, both "the patients and their partners rated quality of life higher as well."
Lead author Caterina Breitenstein notes that "intensive practice is key" to language rehabilitation services, but acknowledges there are barriers to address, including costs and access to healthcare. Some patients, the article notes, couldn't participate in the study because their rehabilitation facility couldn't provide therapy due to staffing shortages.
In addition, the study's three-week timeframe was chosen because Germany's health care insurance typically covers three weeks of aphasia rehabilitation, but the researchers found greater improvements in a subset of people who received an extra two weeks of therapy.
She and her team next want to try and measure the minimum intensity required to improve speech in three weeks and further evaluate if longer periods of therapy can help patients improve more. For now, she's confident that intensive speech therapy works and says there's a need for "urgent change" in using rehabilitation resources to help stroke survivors.
1. Crist, C. Intensive speech therapy helps months after stroke. Reuters Health. 9 Mar 2017. http://in.reuters.com/article/us-health-aphasia-stroke-therapy-idINKBN16F2NW