Scientists have developed an app that can significantly improve reading difficulties caused by stroke, dementia and brain tumours.
The iReadMore app has just been made available to the public via app stores. It has the potential to transform the reading ability of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK and millions around the world, according to the University College London researchers who developed it.
It improved users’ ability to read by up to 25 per cent in some cases, and by an average of nine per cent, according to a study in the journal Brain.
For some people a nine per cent improvement can be the difference between being able to read a short newspaper article or not. For others, it may enable them to understand stop signs or grocery lists, researchers said.
Stroke patients typically need around 100 hours of speech and language therapy, but the NHS is typically only able to provide 12 hours – and less during the pandemic
While some patients are able to get private tuition many thousands cannot, meaning their reading capabilities are reduced.
“We know that rehabilitation after stroke is important, but patients often don’t receive enough to keep their recovery going. Training without guidance or feedback can be difficult to maintain and sometimes counterproductive,” said Professor Nick Ward, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, where the app was trialled.
“We should be striving to create stimulating and challenging ways for our patients to keep training for as long as they can and the iReadMore therapy app is a great way of doing this.”
There are currently 1.3 million stroke survivors in the UK – a figure expected to rise to more than 2.2 million by 2035 – and one in three of them have language impairment. Meanwhile, about one million people in the UK are living with the long term effects of a brain injury and 13,000 are diagnosed with a brain tumour each year.
Professor Alex Leff of University College London, who helped develop iReadMore, said: “Reading ability is commonly affected in patients with strokes, brain injury or dementia that causes language loss. We know that the surviving brain networks can be retrained to improve reading ability, but it takes time and lots of specific practice. iReadMore provides this.
“Because the current version of the app was developed by patients, it should enable many more patients to be able to rack up the necessary practice time at their own pace and without supervision.”
iReadMore was developed by the Neurotherapeutics Group at UCL’s Institute of Neurology.
How it works:
The iReadMore app helps train single-word reading ability, improving both reading accuracy and speed. It adapts the level of difficulty to each user’s reading ability, so the therapy can remain relevant and challenging without being so difficult that it becomes frustrating.
This means that iReadMore can be used by people with varying types or severities of reading impairment.
It also gives users immediate feedback on their performance, and there are regular reading tests, with the results fed back to users via easy-to-understand graphs so they can track their own progress and stay motivated.
In 2018, a large randomised clinical trial of iReadMore, published in the journal Brain, demonstrated significant improvements in word-reading accuracy after four weeks of training. This effect was still present three months after participants had stopped using the therapy.
The app is available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store, for Android and Apple smartphone and tablet users. It is free for people with primary progressive aphasia (a dementia-related condition), or costs £5 a month for those with stroke-related aphasia, following a seven-day free trial.
This cost helps cover software maintenance and user support to keep the app functioning. Any additional revenue will be reinvested into refining the iReadMore app and developing new aphasia therapy apps in the future.
Paul Mylrea, 64, contracted Covid-19 in March last year and during his time in hospital had two strokes caused by the coronavirus infection. He was transferred for specialist care at UCL’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.
The strokes caused Paul to develop the reading impairment alexia, which makes reading slow and effortful. While recovering at home, he has been using the iReadMore therapy app to improve his reading speed and accuracy.
“The iReadMore app has been a godsend for me. My illness has spanned the entire lockdown period,” he said. “The iReadMore app has allowed me to work on my recuperation at home and at my own pace. The use of digital delivery makes it easy to use and entertaining.”
“I believe iReadMore will help both reduce the burden on the NHS and lead to more people being helped.”
Peter McGriskin, 70, had a stroke in June 2012, which affected his speech. He has been using the iReadMore app for five months.
His wife Carol McGriskin has been supporting him through his rehabilitation, and told how Peter used iReadMore independently at home during lockdown.
“I think iReadMore is good because it gives Peter something for himself, something he can complete and be in control of, and I think that gives a big boost to his confidence,” she said.
“Especially during lockdown, there’s been a bit of collateral damage from it all and I know Peter’s confidence has dropped. But by doing the app he’s getting positive feedback, and at the end of a level, I’d hear him go ‘yay!’ when he’s got it all right.
“Even after doing speech therapy at home, almost every day for nine years, it’s good the app stimulates a positive response and a willingness to continue – it gives him hope.”