Authors: McCarthy LM, Kalinyak-Fliszar M, Kohen F, Martin N
Title: Effects of semantic context on access to words of low imageability in deep-phonological dysphasia: a treatment case study
Source: Aphasiology 2017 31(5): 542-562
Year: 2017
Research Design: Single Case Design

Background: Deep dysphasia is a relatively rare subcategory of aphasia, characterised by word repetition impairment and a profound auditory-verbal short-term memory (STM) limitation. Repetition of words is better than nonwords (lexicality effect) and better for high-image than low-image words (imageability effect). Another related language impairment profile is phonological dysphasia, which includes all of the characteristics of deep dysphasia except for the occurrence of semantic errors in single word repetition. The overlap in symptoms of deep and phonological dysphasia has led to the hypothesis that they share the same root cause, impaired maintenance of activated representation of words, but that they differ in severity of that impairment, with deep dysphasia being more severe. Aims: We report a single-subject multiple baseline, multiple probe treatment study of a person who presented with a pattern of repetition that was consistent with the continuum of deep-phonological dysphasia: imageability and lexicality effects in repetition of single and multiple words and semantic errors in repetition of multiple-word utterances. The aim of this treatment study was to improve access to and repetition of low-imageability words by embedding them in modifier-noun phrases that enhanced their imageability. Methods & Procedures: The treatment involved repetition of abstract noun pairs. We created modifier-abstract noun phrases that increased the semantic and syntactic cohesiveness of the words in the pair. For example, the phrases "long distance" and "social exclusion" were developed to improve repetition of the abstract pair "distance-exclusion". The goal of this manipulation was to increase the probability of accessing lexical and semantic representations of abstract words in repetition by enriching their semantic-syntactic context. We predicted that this increase in accessibility would be maintained when the words were repeated as pairs, but without the contextual phrase. Outcomes & Results: Treatment outcomes indicated that increasing the semantic and syntactic cohesiveness of low-imageability and low-frequency words later improved this participant's ability to repeat those words when presented in isolation. Conclusions: This treatment approach to improving access to abstract word pairs for repetition was successful for our participant with phonological dysphasia. The approach exemplifies the potential value in manipulating linguistic characteristics of stimuli in ways that improve access between phonological and lexical-semantic levels of representation. Additionally, this study demonstrates how principles of a cognitive model of word processing can be used to guide treatment of word processing impairments in aphasia.

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