Aphasia is an acquired language impairment following brain damage that affects some or all language modalities: expression and understanding of speech, reading, and writing. Approximately one third of people who have a stroke experience aphasia.
To assess the effects of speech and language therapy (SLT) for aphasia following stroke.
We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (last searched 9 September 2015), CENTRAL (2015, Issue 5) and other Cochrane Library Databases (CDSR, DARE, HTA, to 22 September 2015), MEDLINE (1946 to September 2015), EMBASE (1980 to September 2015), CINAHL (1982 to September 2015), AMED (1985 to September 2015), LLBA (1973 to September 2015), and SpeechBITE (2008 to September 2015). We also searched major trials registers for ongoing trials including ClinicalTrials.gov (to 21 September 2015), the Stroke Trials Registry (to 21 September 2015), Current Controlled Trials (to 22 September 2015), and WHO ICTRP (to 22 September 2015). In an effort to identify further published, unpublished, and ongoing trials we also handsearched the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders (1969 to 2005) and reference lists of relevant articles, and we contacted academic institutions and other researchers. There were no language restrictions.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing SLT (a formal intervention that aims to improve language and communication abilities, activity and participation) versus no SLT; social support or stimulation (an intervention that provides social support and communication stimulation but does not include targeted therapeutic interventions); or another SLT intervention (differing in duration, intensity, frequency, intervention methodology or theoretical approach).
Data collection and analysis
We independently extracted the data and assessed the quality of included trials. We sought missing data from investigators.
We included 57 RCTs (74 randomised comparisons) involving 3002 participants in this review (some appearing in more than one comparison). Twenty-seven randomised comparisons (1620 participants) assessed SLT versus no SLT; SLT resulted in clinically and statistically significant benefits to patients' functional communication (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.28, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.06 to 0.49, P = 0.01), reading, writing, and expressive language, but (based on smaller numbers) benefits were not evident at follow-up. Nine randomised comparisons (447 participants) assessed SLT with social support and stimulation; meta-analyses found no evidence of a difference in functional communication, but more participants withdrew from social support interventions than SLT. Thirty-eight randomised comparisons (1242 participants) assessed two approaches to SLT. Functional communication was significantly better in people with aphasia that received therapy at a high intensity, high dose, or over a long duration compared to those that received therapy at a lower intensity, lower dose, or over a shorter period of time. The benefits of a high intensity or a high dose of SLT were confounded by a significantly higher dropout rate in these intervention groups. Generally, trials randomised small numbers of participants across a range of characteristics (age, time since stroke, and severity profiles), interventions, and outcomes.
Our review provides evidence of the effectiveness of SLT for people with aphasia following stroke in terms of improved functional communication, reading, writing, and expressive language compared with no therapy. There is some indication that therapy at high intensity, high dose or over a longer period may be beneficial. HIgh-intensity and high dose interventions may not be acceptable to all.