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Aphasia: Finding the Words

Aphasia: Finding the Words

Photo: Heaped up platelets with words 

New brain stimulation technique shows promise for people with aphasia, a language disorder that may appear after a stroke.

A stroke can have a devastating effect on a person’s ability to communicate. Words that once came naturally for even simple objects before the stroke - such as a chair, a pen, or an apple - are suddenly difficult if not impossible to retrieve. Although some people may recover their language skills in time, for others, the effects can be chronically debilitating.

Such differences in patient outcomes have scientists from the University of South Carolina delving deeper into this language disorder - called aphasia - which results when language centers of the brain are damaged by stroke, head injury, or other causes.
In new research, they’ve demonstrated not only how important the location of the brain damage is in predicting how well a person will respond to aphasia therapy, they are also investigating a new method for stimulating brain - damaged regions in people with aphasia, in hopes of increasing brain plasticity and perhaps improving word recall.

In the research Julius Fridriksson, Ph.D., studied 26 patients who experienced chronic aphasia after suffering a stroke that damaged the brain’s left hemisphere, where the language centers are found. He wanted to observe whether treating patients for anomia, an impairment associated with aphasia in which a person has difficulty naming certain objects, can help increase neural activity in key regions of the brain. He also wanted to learn if damage to certain regions of the brain had a particularly negative effect on the successfulness of a patient’s treatment.

Dr. Fridriksson noticed that some participants showed great improvement in their ability to name objects while others showed little change. Participants whose lesions were located in areas specializing in word retrieval and phonological processing, toward the back of the left hemisphere, experienced significantly poorer results than participants whose lesions were located elsewhere. He also found that improvement in naming ability was closely tied to brain activation in regions toward the front as well as farther back in the brain’s left hemisphere.

Fridriksson says that the stimulation technique could possibly be customized to address a patient’s needs, no matter where the lesion is located and no matter what type of aphasia he or she may have.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

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