Eva Park Projects, City University London 2016-2017

Investigating aphasia: Eva Park projects at City University London

The Trustees of The Tavistock Trust for Aphasia are funding two new projects at City University London. Researchers at City will further investigate how a virtual world called Eva Park can improve communication for people with aphasia.

Researchers at City University London have been awarded two new grants to further investigate how a virtual world called Eva Park can improve communication following a stroke.

Eva Park is a virtual island that was created by the research team at City with initial funding from the Stroke Association. It was designed with and for people with aphasia (a language impairment often due to stroke). Eva Park is a colourful quirky place with a range of functional locations, such as a restaurant, bar, health centre and hairdressers. There are also green spaces and elements of fantasy. For example there is a lake containing a pearl oyster and a mermaid. Eva Park is a place where people with aphasia can practice social conversations and gain confidence. Several people can use Eva Park at the same time. They are represented by personalised avatars and communicate through speech, using a headset and a microphone. Eva Park won the prestigious Tech4Good 2015 People’s Award.

The new grants follow on from a recently completed three year project which showed that Eva Park can be used successfully to provide language stimulation for people with aphasia. Twenty people had five weeks access to Eva Park, with daily sessions from a support worker, in which they conversed, carried out role plays and had group discussions. Results showed that the Eva Park intervention was very well received and brought about significant improvements on a measure of functional communication.

One of the new projects will employ a software developer who will transform the technology from a prototype to a version that can be released to aphasia support services across the UK. The other project will further explore the therapeutic potential of Eva Park. Using single case experimental designs it will investigate whether Eva Park can be used to deliver specific language treatments, for example targeting word finding or sentence building. Both projects will produce freely available manuals and guidance materials, so that other centres can run the software independently and exploit the therapeutic opportunities of Eva Park.

Speaking about the new grants, Professor Jane Marshall, who leads the Eva Park team, said:

“The social impact of aphasia is huge, with over 350,000 people living with the condition in the UK. Finding effective treatment responses is a priority. We are keen for Eva Park to become a mainstream therapy resource that is widely available to people with aphasia. We hope it can provide opportunities to practise functional and social conversations and to work on specific therapy goals. This funding from The Tavistock Trust for Aphasia is a major step forward in making this happen.”

The Eva Park team is a collaboration between researchers in the Division of Language and Communication Science and the Centre for Human Computer Interaction Design, both at City University London.