Dr. Jessica Richardson believes more can be done through health care and by society to help those affected by aphasia to overcome their communication limitations and live fuller lives. “I have a desire to bridge the gap between what stroke or brain injury survivors were able to do before with what they are able to do now,” says Dr. Richardson, an assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders in the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.
Her most recent study, published in NeuroRehabilitation, was conducted with a team including Arnold School professor Dr. Julius Fridriksson and researchers at The City College of New York of CUNY and Soterix Medical, Inc. The team assessed the feasibility of using the high definition (HD) version (previously untested) of a brain stimulation technique that may have promise as a therapeutic approach for stroke survivors: transcranial direct current simulation (tDCS). They examined the experiences and outcomes of patients with chronic post-stroke aphasia when undergoing the HD form of tDCS compared to the conventional method. The team found that both techniques resulted in similar implementation, acceptability and outcomes for patients.
“To be truly relevant for rehabilitation, we should not only determine whether or not tDCS simply enhances outcomes but also investigate whether tDCS moves the patient closer to making improvements that are noticeable in their daily lives,” says Dr. Richardson. “Such investigations will move the field closer to a truly clinically useful product, for which demand is likely to be high.” With continued research, Dr. Richardson hopes to be able to more accurately predict optimal matches between treatment approaches and individuals with certain profiles of brain damage and residual abilities.
Treatment and insurance coverage should also address a patient’s life participation limitations. “Someone might do well on an aphasia test but be unable to participate in a conversation or return to life roles as a parent, community member, or working person,” she says. “We want to use our findings to galvanize the health care community into action, to raise the bar for treatment and improved outcomes. My goal is to create new tools for clinicians to test and treat the discourse and conversational abilities of persons with aphasia.”