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Department of Linguistics


What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a communication disability caused by damage to the areas of the brain that process language. Stroke is the most common cause of aphasia. Aphasia affects an individual's ability to understand and produce spoken and written language, but other cognitive functions (e.g. memory, attention) remain largely unaffected. As a consequence of these language impairments, people with aphasia often have significant difficulty communicating, which can have a devastating impact on many aspects of their lives.

What can be done to help people with aphasia?

Speech pathologists are the principle profession that works with people who have aphasia, and their families. Speech pathologists determine how language and communication have been affected by aphasia, and then they implement aphasia treatments. These treatments focus on improving the cognitive and linguistic processes affected by aphasia, and on addressing the consequences of aphasia for everyday life.

What can we learn from research about aphasia?

Research focused on aphasia is important for ensuring that people with aphasia achieve the best possible rehabilitation outcomes. In addition, learning more about aphasia can generate new knowledge concerning how language is represented in the brain, the cognitive processes involved with language, and the social organisation of language. At Macquarie, researchers including Professor Lyndsey Nickels, Professor Linda Cupples, and Dr Britta Biedermann are investigating the cognitive mechanisms involved in language processing, and related aphasia treatments. Dr Scott Barnes is also investigating aphasia, but his research focuses on how people with aphasia use language in everyday life, and how this can contribute to aphasia treatment.

Project: Aphasia and interaction

Aphasia is an acquired language disability typically caused by stroke. It affects the ability to use and understand language, while other cognitive functions remain largely unaffected. People with aphasia often have significantly difficulty communicating, but well-targeted treatment can improve their language abilities, and how aphasia affects daily life. In this ongoing research, interactions involving people with aphasia are being studied to discover more about how people with aphasia use language, and how having aphasia affects routine social activities. In particular, this research focuses on interactions involving people with aphasia and their familiar communication partners, and interactions involving people with aphasia and health professionals. Describing how these interactions are structured - patterns in turn-taking, repair of communication breakdown, and ordering and construction of social actions - will contribute to the development and refinement of linguistically and socially focused treatments for aphasia.

Team members: Dr. Scott Barnes, Prof. Alison Ferguson, Dr. Erin Godecke, Laura Cubirka, Sam Maunder, Dayle Sweikert

Project: Conversation therapy for aphasia

This project focuses on improving routine conversations between people with aphasia and their familiar communication partners, like family and friends. It will explore how people with aphasia, their familiar communication partners, and speech pathologists work together to address the communication problems that aphasia causes in everyday life. In particular, this study will examine how the communicative practices used by speech pathologists contribute to therapy outcomes.

Team Members: Dr. Scott Barnes, Prof. Lyndsey Nickels

Project: Measuring conversations involving people with TBI

People who suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) often of have severe difficulty communicating with their friends and family. The cognitive deficits caused by TBI typically lead to problems with effectively, efficiently, and appropriately communicating, but these deficits can be difficult to measure. Being able to measure them is important for tracking improvement over time; in particular, improvement caused by treatment. This project focuses on the use of rating scale measures to capture the effects of TBI on conversation. It examines the use of rating scales measures by novice raters following an intensive training program. The findings of this project will contribute to developing better measurement tools for this complex area of clinical work, and best practice for training in their use.

Team Members: Dr. Scott Barnes, Dr. Emma Power, Prof. Leanne Togher

For more information about aphasia, and aphasia research, please see:


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