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

rain accesses its network to produce words by engaging patients in a series of carefully designed utterances.

"We hope to build up the representation of that word and at the same time influence its whole network," she said.

Overall the therapy is designed to last 10 weeks with two sessions a week. In one step of the regimen, a classic technique, a therapist will ask patients to repeat certain training words with a deliberate, melodic intonation. The next session the therapy would repeat those words without the chant-like tone.

"Having to produce words under different speaking conditions shapes and strengthens underlying word representations," said Blumstein, who is affiliated with the Brown Institute for Brain Science.

Confronting the delicate distinctions of words in the network head-on, Blumstein asks patients to say words that sound similar. "Pear" and "Bear" for example. Explicitly saying similar words, Blumstein said, requires that their differences be accentuated, thus helping strengthen the brain's ability to distinguish them.

Finally the therapy builds upon these earlier exercises by encouraging patients to repeat words they have not been practicing. A patient's ability to correctly repeat untrained words is an important test of whether the therapy can generalize to the broader networks of the training words.

In early testing with four patients, two fluent and two nonfluent, Blumstein said she has seen good results. After only two proof-of-concept sessions one week's worth of training three of four patients showed improved precision in producing similar sounding trained and untrained words, as measured via computer-assisted acoustic analysis. The patients also produced fewer speaking errors and had to try fewer times to say what they were supposed to.

If the therapy proves successful, Blumstein said, one effect she'll be watching for is whether it allows people with aphasia to speak more, not j
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Contact: David Orenstein
david_orenstein@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
Source:Eurekalert  

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