Helping stroke patients with speech

Associate Professor Joanne Lasker creates speech assessment tool

Communication Sciences & Disorders Associate Professor Joanne Lasker, in collaboration with Dr. Kathryn Garrett of Alternative Communication Therapies and the University of Buffalo, developed an assessment tool to figure out which alternate strategies will best help clients with two conditions associated with stroke: aphasia, which creates the feeling that words are on the tips of their tongues but they can't speak them, and apraxia, which impairs motor control of mouth muscles to form words. (Filmed and edited by Emerson students.)

November 30, 2012

The graduate program director of the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department is working to improve methods for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to assess communication in stroke patients with severe impairments in speech and language.

Associate Professor Joanne Lasker became a faculty member this fall after spending 12 years at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Lasker worked with a colleague (Kathryn Garrett of Alternative Communication Therapies in Pittsburgh) to develop the Multimodal Communication Screening Task for People with Aphasia (MCST-A). The MCST-A is a paper-based assessment tool used by clinicians to determine whether people with aphasia, the speech and language disorder caused by stroke, are able to learn to use different techniques to improve their ability to communicate. Potential techniques for people with aphasia may range from “low-technology” communication tools such as notebooks and partner strategies to “high-technology” voice-output devices. Speech-language pathologists use the notebook-based tool developed by Lasker and Garrett as part of a complete assessment. The assessment covers trials of new technology recently acquired by Emerson College.

“People without speech impairment can speak at rates of about 150 to 220 words per minute,” Lasker said. “However, people with severe speech impairment like aphasia may be very limited in what they can communicate due to their speech and language difficulties. They may speak at rates of 12-15 words per minute or even less. Many people with aphasia can benefit from augmentative communication devices and strategies to support or replace their impaired speech. These devices help people with limited natural speech improve their quality of life. We are trying to help clinicians determine which tools are appropriate for which people with aphasia.”

She is now working with Emerson students to develop an app for her paper-based assessment tool.

 “Electronic devices for this type of treatment can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $8,000,” Lasker said. “They aren’t always the right fit for the patient, and we hate to see anyone trying to use a communication system that’s not appropriate for them. Clearly there’s a huge interest in anything iPad-related, so we’d like to figure out if we can pursue that avenue. By developing an assessment tool that’s iPad-based, we’ll get an even better idea of whether or not a person with aphasia can benefit from that technology.”