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Strengthening speech networks to treat aphasia
Date:2/16/2013

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Aphasia, an impairment in speaking and understanding language after a stroke, is frustrating both for victims and their loved ones. In two talks Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Sheila Blumstein, the Albert D. Mead Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown University, will describe how she has been translating decades of brain science research into a potential therapy for improving speech production in these patients. Blumstein will speak at a news briefing at 10 a.m. and at a symposium at 3 p.m.

About 80,000 people develop aphasia each year in the United States alone. Nearly all of these individuals have difficulty speaking. For example, some patients (nonfluent aphasics) have trouble producing sounds clearly, making it frustrating for them to speak and difficult for them to be understood. Other patients (fluent aphasics) may select the wrong sound in a word or mix up the order of the sounds. In the latter case, "kitchen" can become "chicken." Blumstein's idea is to use guided speech to help people who have suffered stroke-related brain damage to rebuild their neural speech infrastructure.

Blumstein has been studying aphasia and the neural basis of language her whole career. She uses brain imaging, acoustic analysis, and other lab-based techniques to study how the brain maps sound to meaning and meaning to sound.

What Blumstein and other scientists believe is that the brain organizes words into networks, linked both by similarity of meaning and similarity of sound. To say "pear," a speaker will also activate other competing words like "apple" (which competes in meaning) and "bear"(which competes in sound). Despite this competition, normal speakers are able to select the correct word.

In a study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience in 2010, for example, s
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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