Factors that predict treatment outcomes in aphasia

We have several other ongoing projects examining the nature of language processing and deficits in aphasia. These studies span a broad range of topics including examining the nature of category learning in individuals with aphasia and semantic processing deficits in individuals with aphasia.


Sofia M. Vallila-Rohter and Swathi Kiran, Non-linguistic learning and aphasia: Evidence from a paired associate and feedback-based task, Neuropsychologia,

Though aphasia is primarily characterized by impairments in the comprehension and/or expression of language, research has shown that patients with aphasia also show deficits in cognitive-linguistic domains such as attention, executive function, concept knowledge and memory (Helm-Estabrooks, 2002 for review). Research in aphasia suggests that cognitive impairments can impact the online construction of language, new verbal learning, and transactional success ( [Freedman and Martin, 2001], [Hula and McNeil, 2008] and [Ramsberger, 2005]). In our research, we extend this hypothesis to suggest that general cognitive deficits influence progress with therapy. The aim of our study is to explore learning, a cognitive process that is integral to relearning language, yet underexplored in the field of aphasia rehabilitation. We examine non-linguistic category learning in patients with aphasia (n=19) and in healthy controls (n=12), comparing feedback and non-feedback based instruction. Participants complete two computer-based learning tasks that require them to categorize novel animals based on the percentage of features shared with one of two prototypes. As hypothesized, healthy controls showed successful category learning following both methods of instruction. In contrast, only 60% of our patient population demonstrated successful non-linguistic category learning. Patient performance was not predictable by standardized measures of cognitive ability. Results suggest that general learning is affected in aphasia and is a unique, important factor to consider in the field of aphasia rehabilitation.


Sandberg, C., Sebastian, R., & Kiran, S. (2012). Typicality mediates performance during category verification in both ad-hoc and well-defined categories. Journal of Communication Disorders, 45(2), 69-83. doi: 10.1016/j.jcomdis.2011.12.004.

The typicality effect is present in neurologically intact populations for natural, ad-hoc, and well-defined categories. Although sparse, there is evidence of typicality effects in persons with chronic stroke aphasia for natural and ad-hoc categories. However, it is unknown exactly what influences the typicality effect in this population.

The present study explores the possible contributors to the typicality effect in persons with aphasia by analyzing and comparing data from both normal and language-disordered populations, from persons with aphasia with more semantic impairment versus those with less semantic impairment, and from two types of categories with very different boundary structure (ad-hoc vs. well-defined).

A total of 40 neurologically healthy adults (20 older, 20 younger) and 35 persons with aphasia (20 LSI (less-semantically impaired) patients, 15 MSI (more-semantically impaired) patients) participated in the study. Participants completed one of two tasks: either category verification for ad-hoc categories or category verification for well-defined categories.

Neurologically healthy participants showed typicality effects for both ad-hoc and well-defined categories. MSI patients showed a typicality effect for well-defined categories, but not for ad-hoc categories, whereas LSI patients showed a typicality effect for ad-hoc categories, but not for well-defined categories.
Conclusions: These results suggest that the degree of semantic impairment mediates the typicality effect in persons with aphasia depending on the structure of the category.


Villard, S. & Kiran, S. (2015). Between-session intra-individual variability in sustained, selective, and integrational attention in aphasia. Neuropsychologia, 66, 204-212. Villard & Kiran 2015

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A number of studies have identified impairments in one or more types/aspects of attention processing in patients with aphasia (PWA) relative to healthy controls; person-to-person variability in performance on attention tasks within the PWA group has also been noted. Studies using non-linguistic stimuli have found evidence that attention is impaired in this population even in the absence of language processing demands. An underlying impairment in non-linguistic, or domain-general, attention processing could have implications for the ability of PWA to attend during therapy sessions, which in turn could impact long-term treatment outcomes. With this in mind, this study aimed to systematically examine the effect of task complexity on reaction time (RT) during a non-linguistic attention task, in both PWA and controls. Additional goals were to assess the effect of task complexity on between-session intra-individual variability (BS-IIV) in RT and to examine inter-individual differences in BS-IIV. Eighteen PWA and five age-matched neurologically healthy controls each completed a novel computerized non-linguistic attention task measuring five types of attention on each of four different non-consecutive days. A significant effect of task complexity on both RT and BS-IIV in RT was found for the PWA group, whereas the control group showed a significant effect of task complexity on RT but not on BS-IIV in RT. Finally, in addition to these group-level findings, it was noted that different patients exhibited different patterns of BS-IIV, indicating the existence of inter-individual variability in BS-IIV within the PWA group. Results may have implications for session-to-session fluctuations in attention during language testing and therapy for PWA.