Elizabeth Hoover
Elizabeth Hoover. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Every week, about 75 people with aphasia, a breakdown in language or communication following a brain injury, come to Sargent’s Aphasia Resource Center to practice conversation, learn new skills, and share experiences with others who have the disorder.

The center, one of the largest of its kind in the country, is also a training ground for students in Sargent’s speech-language pathology program and a hub for research. In one recent study, Elizabeth Hoover, the center’s clinical director, examined whether the perceived impact of the center on recovery correlated with other factors, such as a person’s age or the length of time they have been living with the disorder.

With support from a 2018 dean’s summer stipend, Hoover and her colleagues interviewed more than 30 volunteers from the center, including people with aphasia and their spouses and parents, and found significant differences in how individuals with aphasia and their caregivers responded.

“I think we often will interview people with aphasia and their spouses together and we’ll accept their decisions as a unit,” says Hoover, who is also a clinical associate professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences. But the study showed that these groups of people have different needs and goals. For example, people with aphasia generally expressed more feelings associated with hope and optimism, whereas family members identified more feelings of frustration and fear about the future. Hoover says this was a reminder that “we really have to talk to all of the people who are living with aphasia, because their perspectives and their lenses are very different.”

The study builds on Hoover’s previous work looking at the effects of group treatments for individuals with aphasia, and she says it will also inform future research at the center. For example, she is using a National Institutes of Health grant to evaluate the power of group size in therapy. Fewer people in a group means more opportunity for each person to practice conversation, says Hoover, but a larger group might lead to more camaraderie and better psychosocial benefits. Hoover is also interested in understanding how group treatment components, such as group size and homogeneity, affect outcomes for individuals with different profiles of aphasia.

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