Although the technology for evaluating and treating stroke survivors has advanced significantly over the past several decades, the ability of scientists and clinicians to offer personalized prognosis and treatment plans for individual patients has remained stunted. Researchers just don’t know how factors, such as age, gender and brain fitness, impact rehabilitation outcomes. Dr. Julius Fridriksson a professor at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, aims to change this with a five-year, $11.1 million grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) that will create the Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery (see video).
“This is a remarkable accomplishment for a faculty member who throughout his career has been steadfast in producing impactful science, quality mentoring, quality classroom teaching and demonstrating model faculty citizenship,” says Dr. Thomas Chandler, dean of South Carolina. “I am really, really proud of him.”
The purpose of the grant is to better understand individual responses and recovery following stroke for patients who have acute/subacute (i.e., first days and weeks) or chronic aphasia—a communication disorder resulting from stroke or injury to the brain that impacts patients’ ability to speak, listen, read, and/or write but not does not affect their intelligence. With half of stroke patients in South Carolina under the age of 60, aphasia is not a condition that is limited to the elderly population. Recruiting patients through print media, television and radio, the Center will evaluate and treat a wide range of participants while collecting data on a multitude of factors that influence recovery.
“Clinicians have to end every appointment by telling the patient, ‘everybody’s different and I can only speculate on how you will recover,’” says Dr. Fridriksson, who is a South Carolina health sciences distinguished professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD). “I don’t want to do that anymore. I know for certain that the patients and their families don’t want to hear that anymore. They need something more concrete.”
According to Dr. Fridriksson, stroke survivors have specific questions regarding their recovery—ones that lead to anxiety and depression if left unanswered. What will my future be like? When will I be able to work again? Will I be able to communicate exactly as I could before?
“There is so much variability among the patients, and we don’t know what the crucial factors are that affect prognosis,” he says. “For a while we were only able to look at the amount of damage the stroke caused for patients. Now we know that there are other factors that influence recovery, but we don’t know which ones matter most or what roles they play.”
One of the primary factors the Center will look at to predict prognosis is brain fitness—an umbrella term that includes many different measures of brain integrity, such as residual cerebral blood flow, intactness of brain connections, and location and size of brain damage. They will also assess variables such as age, time-post stroke, gender and neuropsychological status.