Demographics, short-term memory, and aphasia: Insights from the Aphasia Bank

A task that is routinely used by different clinicians (speech & language therapists, psychologists, neurologists) to evaluate the ability of adults with aphasia (the language deficit often associated with stroke) to remember spoken information for a brief period of time is the so-called word-span task. Lists of words that become progressively longer from one list to another are read out to a person. The person has to repeat each list immediately in the same order. Word-span provides clinicians with an insight as to whether short-term memory for language is compromised. Healthy people who do not have aphasia show variable performance in word-span. Demographic factors (age, gender and level of education) have been reported to influence performance on word-span, either favourably or unfavourably. For example, younger adults perform better on word-span than older adults. Also, older adults who are more educated perform better than their less educated peers.

When using word-span clinically to assess individuals, based on knowledge drawn from healthy individuals, some authors suggest that it is advisable to adjust word-span scores for age and/or education. However, very little is known whether the demographic characteristics of people with aphasia (such as age, gender, education) influence performance on word-span in relation to the language abilities they have as a result of their aphasia.

The present retrospective analyses of data from the Aphasia Bank (a shared database of interactions for the study of aphasia), had two aims:

  1. To understand the effects of demographics and language ability (as measured by a standard aphasia test) on word-span.
  2. To understand in more detail whether demographics, and word-span influence particular language abilities such as naming, repetition, spontaneous speech, spoken understanding.

Demographics, language ability (the Western Aphasia Battery, a standard aphasia test) and word-span data from the Aphasia Bank (212 participants) were analysed using regressions. Demographic characteristics were age, education, gender, time-post onset. Time post-onset refers to the length of time since the person had a stroke and has lived with aphasia.

The findings showed that only age and language ability (i.e., performance on the Western Aphasia Battery) predicted performance. Education, gender and time post-onset did not. Older participants performed worse, and participants with less severe aphasia performed better. Importantly, language ability exerted a much greater effect than age. These findings suggest that the effect of brain damage (reflected in language ability) attenuates the role of demographic variables on word-span. Age did not influence scores in naming, repetition and spontaneous speech but did exert a small influence on spoken understanding.

In summary, overall, in chronic aphasia age does not influence language ability, except for a small effect on spoken understanding of language. Education and time post-onset did not affect any of the language measures. There were small effects of gender on spontaneous speech and spoken understanding. Word-span had a prominent influence in all linguistic abilities (but most notably in naming and repetition). This might partially reflect the fact that word-span requires verbal production, but it is in line with previous studies that did not take into account demographic factors. Clinically, the findings suggest that it is more important to adjust for age than education when using word-span.

The present study was carried out in collaboration with Gayle DeDe (Temple University, USA). It was presented at the 54th Academy of Aphasia meeting in Llandudno. We would like to thank ECLS for the financial support to present this study. The authors are greatful for the support of Prof Brian MacWhinney for giving us permission to use Aphasia Bank for this project.

Written by Dr Christos Salis, Lecturer in Speech and Language Sciences

International Aphasia Rehabilitation Conference

City University, London – 14-16 December 2016

Thanks to ECLS postgraduate conference fund for approving my trip to IARC in December 2016. The conference was an excellent opportunity to immerse myself for three days in the world of aphasia research and to network with colleagues from around the world.

I had the opportunity to present my poster on interventions to support internet use for a person with aphasia. Poster sessions were organised so that delegates rotated around posters in small groups, giving me the chance to give a short talk to small groups. Thirty delegates took a copy of the poster and many more took photographs or requested copies by email. Interest was very positive, with many reporting they felt a need for research in the area.


Anna Caute, Linsey Thiel, Becky Moss, Fiona Menger, and Katie Monelley. A group of early career researchers with an interest in technology to support writing for aphasia.

The conference provided me with the opportunity to discuss my work with people with similar research interests. This included a group of early career researchers working on email writing and technology to support written expression (see picture below), and a Swedish OT with an interest in skills needed for successful Internet use and use of everyday technologies. I also had some interesting discussions with colleagues around measuring informativeness and interest of written narratives which has led to finding and reading recently published papers of great relevance to my PhD. Workshops and talks on the final day were extremely useful for considering some of the issues around designing technology for and with people with aphasia.

Outside of my own work, the conference explored a breadth of issues in aphasia research increasing my knowledge and awareness in many areas. Talks I found most interesting were on the published systematic review on SLT for aphasia after stroke, outcome measurement, group therapy, telerehabilitation, Big Data driven approaches to decision making, predicting recovery using fMRI data, and treatment of depression. There was also a hugely varied and interesting display of posters on each day of the conference.

Finally, the conference dinner was a glittering affair in the St. Pancras Renaissance hotel. This provided the unforgettable experience of a group of aphasia researchers recreating the famous Spice Girls video filmed in the same location. No picture attached to preserve professional dignity.

Written by Fiona Menger, Research Assistant, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences.

23rd Annual Meeting of Society for Scientific Studies of Reading (SSSR)


I was given the excellent opportunity to present a poster at the 23rd Annual Meeting of Society for Scientific Studies of Reading (SSSR), which was held in the University of Porto (Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences), Portugal, from the 13th to 16th of July. The title of my poster was “Morphology without semantics? The roles of vocabulary knowledge and language exposure in influencing the nature of lexical representations in a rote learning context”.

During the conference, I enjoyed catching up with former schoolmates, and more importantly, making new connections with potential collaborators in Hong Kong and Kuwait. Not only that, attending talks, seminars, and posters related to my work have further inspired me in terms of my current work as well as future research directions. Last, presenting my work to other researchers not only gave me an opportunity to practise communicating my findings to an audience, but it also allowed me to learn from other researchers who were so helpful in giving suggestions about how to analyse my data, specifically certain R codes for data cleaning as well as further pairwise comparisions. I am excited to implement these suggestions in my work!

Overall, it was a very productive and beneficial time for me at the conference. The conference was very well-organised with student volunteers who were always ready to help conference attendees. The lovely sunny weather in Porto certainly helped a lot! I strongly encourage graduate students who are interested in research on literacy, language acquisition, reading, writing, spelling, etc. to attend this conference in the future.

Written by Siti Syuhada Binte Faizal, who is a 3rd-year PhD student in Speech and Language Sciences.

Newcastle University Speech Therapy Society’s Giving Voice Campaign (13th-15th April 2016)


In 2010, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists started a campaign, Giving Voice, to raise awareness of the importance of Speech and Language Therapy (SLT). 2.5 million people in the UK have Speech, Language and Communication Needs, yet it is still a little-known about profession amongst the general public. This year, Newcastle University’s Speech Therapy Society organised a 3 day Giving Voice Campaign. Students from all stages in the Speech and Language Sciences department got involved and it was a huge success.

Challenging Perceptions on Campus – 250 responses to a survey were analysed and posters were created showing what the general public think about SLT. Comments ranged from “teach people to talk” to “changing lives” and even “I will never forget their gift to my life”.

Pub Quiz and Silent Auction in aid of the Stroke Association – Nearly 100 people descended on a local pub to take part in our pub quiz. We had 14 ‘lots’ up for silent auction throughout the evening. An amazing £255 was raised for the Stroke Association – thank you to everyone who came!

Awareness of Alternative Communication Methods on Campus – a range of alternative communication methods, including Makaton, symbol exchange and pen and paper were provided and members of the public were encouraged to use these methods to ask for a freebie. Many people found it difficult to imagine using these methods as opposed to their voice as their main method of communication, but unfortunately, this is the reality for many people.

Awareness of Swallowing Disorders on Campus – People were drawn to our table for a ‘free drink with a twist’. 1/3 of people experience difficulties swallowing post-stroke and use thickener to increase the consistency of their drinks to ensure swallowing does not threaten life. There were various reactions but a consensus that quality of life would be significantly reduced.


Silent Flash Mob – Newcastle University’s city campus and Northumberland Street are both bustling main areas in Newcastle and, at 11am, were filled with a range of people going about their daily business. However, attention was diverted to the student wandering around trying to shout, but without any sound. The public changed direction to avoid the student, which struck a chord with many students as this reaction is experienced by a vast number of people with disabilities. With the blow of a whistle, 20 students appeared with large speech bubbles containing facts, quotes and statistics about SLT. Members of the public were seen to bump into each other as they read the bubbles and murmurs of ‘I know someone who had SLT were heard all around. The society then shouted, ‘Speech and Language Therapy transforms lives’, the Giving Voice tagline, and, with another whistle blow, the students disappeared. This demonstration, which lasted less than 2 minutes, drew the attention of the public to SLT and its importance for so many people.

“Without Speech and Language Therapists, I wouldn’t be here” – Service User

“I have learnt a lot about Speech and Language Therapy” – Member of the Public

“Speech and Language Therapy gave me a voice” – Service User

BAAP Conference 2016 (Yiling Chen)

Yiling Chen is an IPhD Phonetics and Phonology student who has kindly written a short account about her recent visit to BAAP.


It has been a wonderful experience presenting a paper at the 2016 BAAP Colloquium (British Association of Academic Phoneticians) which took place on 30 March — 1 April.

I fully enjoyed this 3-day event where many interesting talks were delivered by active phoneticians from a wide range of areas such as speech and language therapy, speech acquisition, speech technology and forensic science, etc. I have benefited a lot not just from a lively discussion following my presentation, but also from the socialization with other members in which we exchanged our ideas and shared our experience of researching.

I personally think the conference was well organized and very successful. The next colloquium will be held by the University of Kent in 2018. It is worth being a part of it for anyone who endeavors to pursue an academic career in phonetics and speech sciences, particularly graduate students. I believe you will be amazed and inspired by this informative and insightful conference as it has always been. 

Experiences of BAAP Conference 2016 (Dan McCarthy)

My name is Dan McCarthy and I am a second year PhD student in Speech Sciences.

From 30 March to 1 April 2016 I attended in Lancaster the biannual BAAP Conference (BAAP standing for the British Association for Academic Phoneticians). I found this experience to be beneficial in a number of ways:

  1. I had the opportunity of presenting the results of my pilot study to a broad academic audience. The members of BAAP number several hundred and work in a variety of topics related to phonetics (e.g. the production and perception of speech, acoustic analysis, forensic voice profiling, sociolinguistic variation). Presenting my results to such an audience of experts boosted my confidence in my research abilities and in my ability to communicate ideas clearly.
  2. Attending the conference dinner helped me make new contacts in the academic world. In particular, I was able to get advice on what programming languages and statistical packages work best for my area.
  3. My attention was drawn to research publications relevant to my research that I had been unaware of. (This was during my poster presentation.)
  4. I had a number of interesting conversations with researchers engaged in similar areas of interest to my own, which was an enjoyable experience in my own right.
  5. The other presentations at the conference gave me a feel for what research areas are currently being most extensively pursued. This included learning that there appears to be no one in the UK currently researching how to acoustically distinguish the places of articulation of plosive consonants (my own topic), although there are some researchers in the UK investigating the acoustics of somewhat similar consonants (e.g. /s/).
  6. I learnt new information on topics not related to my own, by attending the above-mentioned talks and poster presentations.

Strokes of the Brush North East Trust for Aphasia (NETA) Travelling Art Show

A Faculty of Medical Science and Newcastle Institute for Creative Arts Practice Engagement Project, based within Speech and Language Sciences ECLS, Newcastle University


The NETA Travelling Art Show took an exhibition to nine venues across the North East region from June to November 2015, targeting areas where stroke disease is more prevalent.  The exhibition showed high quality art created by people with aphasia and provided information about stroke disease, including risk factors and prevention, research projects and aphasia. Nearly 600 people interacted with NETA members and got first-hand information about aphasia and stroke.


People with aphasia were involved at every level, and Fine Art students helped make it happen. Quantitative and qualitative data show the success of the project in raising awareness of aphasia and stroke.  The public’s comments reflected their appreciation, as in the examples below. The combination of attractive artwork, an experienced person to talk to and literature to take away, helped reinforce the messages. NETA members grew in confidence as the project progressed and they could see the positive impact it was making. Fine Art students had the opportunity to be involved in an inter-disciplinary project and take it out into the community.

For more information about aphasia and NETA