Isobel Chick was awarded a Brain Research UK PhD studentship in 2021 to enable her to pursue research into non-verbal aspects of communication in people with aphasia following stroke.
Isobel is a speech and language therapist who knows first-hand how debilitating speech and language difficulties can be, having previously worked with adults with acquired neurological conditions such as stroke and traumatic brain injury.
During her PhD she will work with supervisors Professor Gabriella Vigliocco and Dr Jeremy Skipper to advance understanding of how people with aphasia communicate, and to develop new, evidence-based interventions to improve the lives of people with aphasia.
Aphasia - language impairment - is the second most common major impairment after stroke, affecting an estimated 350,000 people in the UK. It is a severely disabling disorder, causing profound frustration for those affected, and often leading to social withdrawal and depression.
"Through my work with adults with acquired brain injuries, I have become increasingly aware of the negative impact that impaired communication has on quality of life, ability to return to work, and to engage in everyday relationships, and consequently the vital importance of generating effective, timely and person-centred therapy programmes." Isobel Chick.
Communication is more than speech. It includes other useful aspects that help us derive meaning, including pointing and gestures. These are known as multimodal cues and they could be a helpful tool for people with speech and language difficulties.
To facilitate communication using multimodal cues in people with aphasia, we first need to understand how people already use these cues and, more specifically, how this is affected by the type of damage to their brain. This will enable the development of more personalised speech and language interventions to reduce the negative impacts of aphasia.
Isobel's study has two parts. In the first part, she will explore how people with aphasia due to damage in different areas of the brain use multimodal cues alongside speech to understand conversations and retrieve words. She will compare the performances of those with damage to the front and back parts of the brain to look for differences in the way they communicate. She will then use this information in the second part of her study to develop and trial a more personalised speech and language therapy intervention to help people understand conversations and retrieve words more effectively.
"We need exactly this type of project to inform interventions using these cues to improve rehabilitation and language use in people with aphasia. I think it could have substantial clinical impact, especially because the applicant is a speech and language therapist, and because her supervisors are both outstanding researchers working in exactly the right area." Project reviewer.
Just as important, through this PhD studentship, we are supporting this well-established Speech and Language Therapist into academia so that she can address the questions that arise during her work with patients. We hope that Isobel will go on to develop a long and illustrious career in this under-researched and under-resourced field of research.
Acquired brain and spinal cord injury (including stroke) is one of our current research priorities, reflecting the large unmet need in this area. Our aim is to fund research to advance understanding of how to promote repair of the brain and spinal cord following injury.
Read about our other research projects under this theme:
Find out about our other research in this area: