Researchers bring hope for patients with aphasia

By Nikki Withers, medwireNews Reporter

Two groups of researchers have presented preliminary results of studies aiming to help in the treatment of aphasia at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, this month.

In the first presentation, Sheila Blumstein (Brown University, Rhode Island, USA) and colleagues discussed the results of a program designed to improve the speech production of aphasic patients so that they can more easily say words and sentences.

The program involves two sessions per week for 10 weeks. In the first session, the examiner produced a sentence with a target word very slowly, exaggerating the speech melody, and the patient modeled what the examiner says. In the second session the examiner produced a sentence with a target word, and this time speaks at a slow rate, but with normal speech melody, and the patient modeled what the examiner said.

Early testing involved four patients; two were non-fluent aphasic speakers and two were fluent aphasic speakers. All were between 6 and 27 years post-stroke. Computer-assisted acoustic analyses were conducted to assess the sound productions of the four patients before and after a single training session.

The researchers report that, after only having participated in two sessions, three of the four patients showed improved production of the trained words, with increased articulatory precision in differentiating similar-sounding words. Similar findings were seen for a set of untrained words.

"That such improvement emerged for these chronic aphasics after only a single training session holds promise that a more intense program will show further improved spoken word production and also carry over beyond the training session," say Blumstein et al.

In the second presentation, Cynthia Thompson (Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA) and co-investigators spoke about their research on aphasia and the neurolinguistic systems it affects.

They study the neural mechanisms of human language and the way that the brain recovers from impaired language using functional magnetic resonance imagery. They also use eye tracking to understand how people compute language as they hear it in real-time.

The researchers will focus on determining the impact of lesion extent and location, as well as the integrity of white matter tracts, on recovery of brain function and recruitment of both cortical and subcortical tissue. Biomarkers of recovery, including rest state neural activity, are also under study.

The team says that, in the future, they hope to make predictions and recommendations about how to maximize the brain's neuroplastic potential.

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