Kent State and Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute to Conduct NIH Research Study on Rehabilitation for Aphasia

When someone suffers a stroke, traumatic brain injury or brain tumor, one of the common symptoms is aphasia, a disorder that arises from damage to portions of the brain, usually the left side, that are responsible for language. It impairs the expression and understanding of language, as well as reading and writing. 

About one million people in the United States currently have aphasia, and nearly 180,000 Americans acquire it each year, according to the National Aphasia Association. But, there is not a consensus in the medical community on how to best provide rehabilitation for those afflicted with the disorder. 

With a five-year, $2.4 million grant recently awarded from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers from Kent State University and the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) in Philadelphia will conduct a series of studies to develop a theory of learning needed to advance aphasia rehabilitation.

Katherine Rawson, Ph.D., professor of psychology in Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences, is co-investigator and director of a sub-award of $476,000 under the grant from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), titled “Retrieval Practice Principles:  A Theory of Learning for Aphasia Rehabilitation.” This is a multisite project led by Erica Middleton, Ph.D., of the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute. 

“The project takes a novel approach to aphasia rehabilitation that promises to improve naming in people with aphasia,” says Maria Zaragoza, Ph.D., chairperson of Kent State’s Department of Psychological Sciences. “The groundbreaking aspect of this project is that it takes research from the fields of psychology and education and applies it to the therapeutic context.”

With this new grant, researchers will try to define what types of people with aphasia benefit from retrieval practice-based naming treatments (versus other treatments) and what cognitive-linguistic characteristics predict such differential benefit. They also will apply retrieval practice principles to treat people with comprehension deficits and develop a theoretical account of how and why retrieval practice principles impact naming.

Rawson has been systematically investigating the learning techniques of retrieval practice (i.e., the “what to do”) and distributed practice (i.e., the “when to do it”) for more than 10 years. Her previous work had largely been focused on enhancing student learning outcomes, with a particular eye toward improving the durability and efficiency of student learning.  

Several years ago, Middleton and Rawson started exploring the application of these learning techniques in a new domain — aphasia rehabilitation.  

“Outcomes of our earlier, smaller-scale studies were quite promising and led to the larger-scale research that we’ll be pursuing in this funded project to further investigate and explain the potent effects of distributed retrieval practice in the context of aphasia rehabilitation,” Rawson says.  

“We know that every act of speech is an act of learning,” Middleton says. “By better understanding how and why that is, we believe this research program can make existing aphasia treatments more principled and effective.” 

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To learn more about Rawson’s research, visit her laboratory website.  

POSTED: Thursday, June 29, 2017 01:43 PM
Updated: Saturday, December 3, 2022 01:02 AM