Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr, Erin Kohlenberg.

May 6, 2015

Aphasia does not affect everyone the same way and hence treatment strategies for different individuals vary. When a language professional assesses a person with aphasia it is important to determine what aspects of communication are more preserved in order to design a therapy that enhances spared functionality.

The more details we know about how the brain orchestrates complex functions such as speaking, reading, writing, and understanding what others say, the easier it will be to determine what aspects of speech and language to target during therapy.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, and Columbia University have recently shown that some aspects of speaking and writing are mediated by somewhat different brain areas. In their study published in the journal Psychological Science, they describe 5 Aphasia patients who had language deficits when speaking but not when they were writing, or vice versa.

When patients were asked to describe pictures, some of them would say, for example, “The boy is walking,” but write, “the boy is walked.” This dissociation of spoken and written deficits was specific to morphological elements of language (e.g. -ing in running). In another example a patient would say “Dave is eating an apple” but write, “Dave is eats an apple.”

Dr. Brenda Rapp, a professor at the Department of Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins university and a lead author on the paper, told ScienceDaily:

Actually seeing people say one thing and — at the same time — write another is startling and surprising. We don’t expect that we would produce different words in speech and writing. It’s as though there were two quasi-independent language systems in the brain.

Furthering our understanding about the extent to which the written and spoken systems overlap in the brain can inform professionals how to tailor aphasia therapies to make the most of spared functionality.