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New Research on Treating Aphasia Examines Language Comprehension

New research out of Arizona State University is taking a look at whether we’ve been thinking about things backward when it comes to aphasia. Is it better to first focus on speaking or understanding? A doctoral student has been awarded a grant to study whether changing the way the speaker conveys information can bring about better understanding. This could lead to better speaking down the road for people with aphasia:

With that premise in mind, speech and language researchers at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions are testing an innovative way to help people who struggle with communication following a stroke. Rather than focusing on a patient’s ability to speak, they will instead conduct research to determine if the way speakers talk can improve a stroke patient’s ability to understand.

The researcher, Arianna LaCroix, focuses on one piece of communication at a time, starting with comprehension. The idea is that it may be easier to treat aphasia once it’s confirmed that a person understands language.

Possible Treatment

LaCroix is beginning by observing the effects of tone. Her theory is that some people will benefit from over-pronunciation while others will be better served by a lack of inflection. The option depends on the type of stroke and damage:

LaCroix theorizes that speaking in an exaggerated way will help patients whose attention span is better, while those whose memory is better will understand more if they are spoken to in a flat, even tone.

The person’s strengths will guide and shape their speech therapy once comprehension is established.

This research has just begun, so we’re still two years away from seeing whether or not these hypotheses hold. But it’s exciting to see a different approach to treating aphasia and imagine the possibilities.

Image: Trent Erwin via Unsplash

Comments

8 Comments

  • Lannie
    August 22, 2018 at 8:18 am

    My mom suffered from aphasia after her stroke in 2015. Until her passing in October 2017, she was never able to speak. Her comprehension and ability to understand was present. However, her moter skills and abilities to use electronic devices, even remotes, was totally diminished. Neorolocicaly, I, as some of the DR’s that treated her, believed the attention span was a major factor in her inabilities. I am very interested in finding out more about this theory.

  • Patriicia Kay Scott
    September 12, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    My brother outside Detroit, Michigan had a stroke 10 years ago and is unable to speak other than a few words.
    He communicates via e-mail and shows an alertness one could not imagine if talking to him.
    He wonders if he might be part of your study via cyberspace.? He could probably communicate via e-mail how he best understands what is spoken to him. He is 72 years of age and confined to a wheel chair. Please let me know and I will give you his contact information in a more private way.

  • Rebecca
    September 12, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    We are so open to trying new ideas. My husband is 10 years post stroke and communication is really a challenge. Praying that something comes from this study. If it helps only one person — it is a success.

  • Marie
    September 12, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    My mom has primary progressive aphasia due to Frontal Temporal Dementia. She’s 8 years in since being diagnosed. It started with struggling to say some of the larger words . . . just minor stumbles which got better as we talked more . . . and now, it is a struggle for her to enunciate even one word. Her comprehension and understanding of words and conversations is still good, and she knows what she wants to say, she just can’t get the words to come out right. She can still write – sometimes the words get mixed up a little in writing, but we can figure it out easily, or if we’re still confused, she can correct the word that isn’t right. My understanding is that this type of primary progressive aphasia is not helped by speech therapy or anything, really, for that matter. It’s degenerative and not “re-buildable” as those with this problem due to a stroke or injury. Am I correct on that, or is there something we could do?

  • Donna Peterson
    September 13, 2018 at 10:33 am

    My husband had a stroke 8 years ago and developed Wernicke’s aphasia. He is able to speak and hold conversations. His comprehension is improving with speech therapy, but is really only at 50%. He can write a few words, but that is only because of copying or rote memorization. He is unable to spell, but can read. He is slow, but seems to have some comprehension. If he attempts to read something out loud, you only get word salad. The only thing that works is repetition. He receives speech therapy weekly and has made good progress. I hope that something comes from this study that will help him. He really wants to be able to understand better and improve his reading. I doubt that we will ever be able to write sentences or spell. Good luck with this study. I agree that if it helps only 1 person it is a success. My husband has been very limited with therapy because few SLPs have experience with Wernicke’s. It took us 7 years to find someone who had experience with not only Wernicke’s, but also Apraxia. Keep up the good work.

  • Ruth Gallegos
    September 13, 2018 at 10:55 am

    My husband had a stroke 3 years ago. He is 73 years old. He understands at times and sometimes I have to repeat several times. His nouns are blocked. He cannot say names of people, places, or things. Every once in a while he does say a name of a person and I let him know he said the persons name. I ask him to repeat it and he cannot.

    We would be interested in any help with his Aphasia. If there is any way to unblock his nouns so he can say them, that would be very helpful.

  • Kathy
    September 14, 2018 at 8:23 am

    My husband has Primary Progressive Aphasia. His last MRI on August 2, 2018 shows no degeneration of the frontal lobes and only slight degeneration of the right temporal lobe. The left temporal lobe continues to degenerate significantly. There is no cure for PPA. Unlike other aphasias, where reversal, at least partial, is possible with therapy, speech therapy may delay loss of communication skills with PPA, but it will not stop it as the brain degenerates. As a caregiver, this is a sad and sometimes frustrating situation as I feel so helpless. I also feel my husband’s frustration and fear as he continues to deteriorate. There is much we don’t know about the brain, so obviously more research is needed. Regardless of my and my husband’s personal situation, I am happy to see grants for research such as this.

  • Georgia Cunningham
    November 23, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    My husband is 2 years from his stroke and heart attack. He is 77 years old. He was diagnosed with Warnike’s Aphasia and has both receptive and expressive language deficit. He has some visual deficit of his peripheral vision. I use a white board so he can read words, and I draw many pictures. He has certain words he uses for words he can’t pull up…signal, company, etc. I am usually able to finally figure out what he is trying to say. He believes he is stating it clearly, and it’s sometimes “my problem” that I don’t understand. His frustration level becomes great when he can’t think of a word, his face gets red, and I know his blood pressure is on the rise. He had speech therapy for almost a year after the stroke and heart attack, made good progress, and has now leveled off. He is able to read, and he spends most of his day on his computer or tablet which he is able to navigate well. I used children’s phonics books in the beginning until he was able to read again. He cannot read books or long passages. We use closed caption on the tv, and that visual is mildly successful; auditory is not. Focusing and paying attention is not easy for him, frustration causes a lack of patience with tasks, and it is worse when he is tired. He has developed some OCD and has diminished ability to multi-task. I hope new ways will be developed for this condition. I appreciate this website; it has been helpful to me, the caregiver.

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