Loss of words: the terrible effect of aphasia | Sciences

Actor Bruce Willis, during an event in 2019.Angela Weiss (AFP)

Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage to the area of ​​the brain that controls language. It often arises as a result of a stroke, a brain tumor, or a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Bruce Willis, Hollywood actor and star crystal forestHe recently announced that he will retire after being diagnosed with aphasia. This disorder affects a person’s ability to speak or understand others coherently.

Many people had never heard of aphasia until this sad news was published, which may come as a surprise given that 300,000 new cases are diagnosed in the European Union each year.

annoying diagnosis

“People tend to focus on the causes,” says Dr. Nicoletta Biondo, a psycholinguist at the University of California, Berkeley. “However, being unable to communicate suddenly is horrible. One day you wake up and realize that you have lost your ability to speak or understand others.

Biondo continues: “Aphasia is largely unknown, but recently more research is being done on it. We hope this will help us better understand the functioning of the language system and provide a scientific basis for designing treatments aimed at improving the quality of life for people with aphasia. verbal.” Any damage to the part of the brain that deals with language can cause aphasia. The nature of the symptoms varies depending on the location and size of the lesion.

Some people with aphasia can’t remember how to say “orange.” Others may be able to write the word “orange” but not be able to read the word, and others may say “apple” instead of “orange” and insist it is correct. There are also those who try to pronounce the word “orange” who end up making a pronunciation that has nothing to do with the word. Other people cannot repeat the word “orange” after someone has said it to them and there are cases where they do not even understand the meaning of the word “orange”.

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Various subtypes

“By using better diagnostic tools, we will be able to identify the subtype of aphasia that a person has, so that medical personnel can recommend the appropriate treatment without wasting any time,” says Siskin Arslan, a neurolinguist and director of the research project. ProResAFunded by the European Union, it aims to better understand the relationship between aphasia and the use of pronouns. “Today there is no way to end aphasia, but there are treatments to preserve language ability for longer.”

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a relatively rare form of this condition, although its prevalence increases with age. It is usually caused by a stroke or progressive degeneration of the brain (for example, in people with dementia).

People using APP often show an unusual use of pronouns (words like you, she or she). Instead of referring to a person or object by name, they prefer to use the pronoun.

Pronouns can be difficult to process because they require memory to be in good working order. When a person hears a name or a name, he must reactivate the memory of the object or person he is talking about in his memory. It’s not that pronouns are the most important elements of grammar, but they are small details that can be used to determine the impact of illness or stroke on general language competence,” explains Arslan.

The ProResA team strives to better understand the signs of aphasia and to develop tools to speed its diagnosis. They will be able to predict the development of aphasia even in people who do not yet have obvious symptoms of the disorder and allow degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease to be identified early.

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Currently, international standardized tests for the diagnosis and determination of the degree of aphasia are only available in English, making it impossible to make a cross-country comparison of the severity of aphasia.

So far, the project Collaboration of Habsa professionalsFunded by the European Union and several of its international partners, they have adapted standardized aphasia assessment tools into 15 languages.

eye tracking

For the first time, data is being collected using eye-tracking technology, a tool that has proven very useful in diagnosing dementia. Usually, people who get Alzheimer’s disease Show signs of impaired eye movement before any cognitive symptoms.

Participants in this study enter a “visual paradigm” in which they have to listen to a series of sentences while looking at images on a computer screen. When it is said and the image matches, the participant must click with the mouse.

An infrared camera directs a beam into a person’s eyes, allowing eye movements to be tracked. The camera records the time and duration that people look at the screen, as well as the resolution of each display stabilization, the time spent analyzing the image and how quickly they are clicked.

“If we finally create a database of people with APP by tracking their eye movements during language processing, we will have a tool that can predict the development of aphasia in people with mild dementia,” Arslan says.

brain injury

A separate part of the ProResA project focuses on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify areas of the brain that are not working properly. The team set out to create a detailed map of brain damage and link it to specific types of language impairment.

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time It is another European project using magnetic resonance imaging. Its director, Dr. Biondo, is dedicated to identifying the areas and networks of the brain that cause time-related dysfunction.

Some people with aphasia speak “telegraphically”, that is, form sentences without verbs that do not contain any time reference. “We communicate a lot with verbs. They are the nucleus of the sentence and they convey essential information about time”, confirms Biondo. “However, when someone says ‘I have dinner,’ we don’t know if the action happened in the past, will happen in the future, or is happening now.”

Very little is known about the causes of this phenomenon, but there are those who believe that the problem is not just a language problem, but responds to a difficulty in visualizing verbs that do not occur at this time.

simple tasks

Biondo will ask patients to perform simple tasks – such as sorting a series of photos of celebrities by age – and matching the results with brain images that highlight the specific area in which the lesion is located.

“As we get a better understanding of what’s going on, we will try to help people in a more meaningful way. For example, we can work on practical ways to train the brain to regain the functions it has lost.”

The research described in this article was funded with funding from the European Union. The article was originally published in . format horizonJournal of Research and Innovation of the European Union.

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