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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Aphasia subject of UA research project

    Research projects at the UA are treating individuals with a disease that strips people of speech and memory after they suffer traumatic head injuries.

    Pelagie Beeson, professor of speech, language and hearing, said aphasia is defined as the loss of ability to understand or express speech. “”These people all had normal language skills as adults. And then they had damage to the region of the brain that’s critical for language.””

    “”The focus, in the broad sense, is to understand how the brain supports reading and writing,”” Beeson said. “”One of the ways we do that is by working with people who have had damage to the brain and then have difficulty.””

    She said the Aphasia Research Project, which is located in the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences Building, was created in 1991 and receives its funding from the National Institute of Health.

    While the project doesn’t focus on other conditions such as Alzheimer’s, these can also have symptoms of aphasia. “”We do see people with dementia’s where language is their problem. The term for that is progressive aphasia.”” Beeson said. While complete memory loss can occur, “”They never seem childlike … it’s like relearning.””

    She said the clinic treats groups of 3-6 patients, categorized mostly by their level of communication.

    “”With our aphasia groups … we typically let people come if they feel like they will get benefits from it … We have people who have come for eight years … but we have new people come in all the time,”” said Janet Hawley, a clinical assistant professor.

    Hawley said that each aphasia patient is different but there are several similarities between people who suffer from the disease.

    “”A cardinal feature of aphasia is word retrieval,”” Hawley said. “”They know the word, they know it’s a dog, they know that dog is likely to go over there and urinate on the lawn, and they know it might run out in front of a car, they can be aware of that but they can’t think of the word ‘dog’. That’s kind of aphasia.””

    She said one of the biggest points of emphasis is self-help. “”Some people draw, some people write the first letter and that will help them think of the word.””

    Another part of the research project is dedicated to examining the different treatment approaches, in particular with the written language.

    “”(The treatment is) typically for 2 to 3 months,”” Beeson said. “”We look at their response to treatment … we work on people’s ability to read and write after a stroke. And that’s one of our funded grants.””

    Treatments include reverting to the basic foundation of speech, she said. “”Some people need to relearn the association between letters and sounds … and so we have to retrain the correspondence between sounds and letters.””

    Beeson said treatments are a continuous cycle that extends beyond the clinics.

    She said other patients are not sure what the correct word is for a particular item due to memory loss, “”so we do some things to strengthen their ability to detect their errors and correct their errors.””

    The recovery process is similar to the initial learning process in that people only get out of it what they put into it, Beeson said.

    “”It is therapy, with homework. So it is like being in school … it’s more of a behavior cognitive interactive, working on the language.””

    Measurable changes are registered as early as eight weeks, but Beeson said treatment could go on for many years.

    Out of the nearly 500 patients treated, “”I would guess maybe 3 to 5 percent don’t do well … 95 percent of the people definitely make improvement.”” Beeson said.

    Hawley said that while the recovery process can be a long journey it is definitely one that is worth the wait.

    “”When I first met him, he just stood next to his wife and his wife talked for him and told us all about his … aphasia … he just sort of stood there like ….’sorry I can’t say anything,'”” Hawley said.

    “”He came into treatment and we started just really drilling at the most basic levels. He had to learn the sounds again … literally had to sort of work through each and every sound and cue himself to come back. Now, it’s effortful, but he can communicate in you know, full sentences, get his point across, tell jokes. He’s gotten back to reading … it’s exciting.””

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