Jacqueline Stark was a senior researcher for the Neuropsycholinguistic Research Unit at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (February 1974 to May 2017). She founded the organisation for persons with aphasia in Vienna, Austria – ‘Aphasia Club’ – in 1976 and heads it to date. She served as president of the Association Internationale Aphasie (Brussels) from 2009 to 2015. She is presently Co-Chair of the ANCDS Membership committee. She is developer of the therapy material ‘ELA Photo Series’ (1992-2003) and ELA Computer Modules and Basic Vocabulary (2017). She serves on the NGO Committee on Ageing in the UN as the Austrian representative for the International Federation on Ageing (IFA). She is a member of the Academy of Aphasia, the Academy of Neurologic Communication Disorders and Sciences, the International Neuropsychological Society, British Aphasiology Society, and Gesellschaft für Aphasieforschung und -Behandlung (GAB).
The Importance of Maintaining Verbal Communication Skills Across the Lifespan
The ability to communicate is one of the most basic human needs: language is the key to quality of life. It enables persons to express their thoughts and feelings, fulfill their professional obligations and participate in society. In this presentation, the state of the art of language enhancement in healthy older persons will be characterized including the role of neural plasticity and cognitive reserve. Departing from the needs healthy older persons, a protocol for enhancing language skills will be introduced based on computerized language tasks encompassing all linguistic levels.
Although language is essential in all aspects of life, it is for the most part taken for granted – until language is affected. This is the case with increasing age when word-finding difficulties become more prevalent, or in persons with acquired language disorders (i.e. ‘aphasia’) as a result of a cerebral vascular accident, i.e. a stroke. In both cases, expressing one’s thoughts becomes more effortful or even impossible. In the case of older persons living alone or those who are no longer mobile and confined to their dwellings, the possibility to use language in performing activities of daily life in interaction with partners or caregivers declines. These conditions gradually lead to isolation and less participation in societal activities. The result can be an earlier emergence of a subtle decline in verbal communication. In these situations, the relevance of improving language skills for maintaining interpersonal relationships and contact with the outside world becomes highlighted.
In order to work against this development, innovative language-enhancing measures are necessary to insure that older persons maintain their ability to express their thoughts and needs across the lifespan. Therefore, linguistically structured tasks enhancing and facilitating language production and comprehension designed specifically to meet their needs are required for systematic use in everyday life.
Departing from research carried out with persons with aphasia based on applying the Everyday Life Activities (ELA®) (Stark, 1992-2003) picture stimuli to improve language skills, the ELA®-computer assisted programs were conceptualized and developed. An important criterium was the relevance of the items for everyday life, which make them applicable for multiple target groups. The structure and administration of two innovative computer-assisted programs – ELA®-Language Modules (Stark, 2017) and ELA®-Basic vocabulary (Stark, 2017) – will be characterized. The computer and analogue-based programs characterized in this presentation provide a starting point for maintaining and evaluating the enhancement of verbal communicative abilities in persons with aphasia and healthy older persons.