The time has come for me to start thinking about trying to write the first proper scientific journal article on my PhD journey. The mysterious and desirable peer reviewed scientific journal article. It is an important part of all researchers achievements. The number of articles and the journal they are published in seem to be a measure of your success. So starting with the number of articles, this will hopefully be my first. Right. Now journal…which journal….preferably a high impact journal…but really why?
Over the course of my clinical and (recent) research career I have really begun to understand how little other disciplines know about speech and language therapy. Of course everybody knows we work with children, and people who stammer….but beyond that? I have learnt to tell people that SLTs work on swallowing, language, conversation, social skills and cognitive areas beyond simply the single word. But that has often felt like a drop in the ocean. So we need to shout louder.
Indeed I recently surveyed SLTs across the UK on referral patterns and treatment practices with people with PPA (the language variant of dementia). SLTs reported massive barriers to people with with PPA accessing our services. One of the most commonly cited reasons- lack of understanding amongst referrers and patients themselves. Not only are health professionals, even those working in dementia, not always aware of what PPA is. Other health professionals often do not understand what SLTs do and thus frequently do not refer to us at all.
So in short; a high impact journal can reach a much wider audience who may not know what we do. Publishing an article about speech and language therapy for people with dementia in a journal read by neurologists, psychiatrists or GPs may reach an key audience. This is a group who can increase referrals to SLT. They are the gatekeepers between people with dementia and PPA, and SLT services. By promoting SLT to the gatekeepers I might have a direct impact on the lives of many people with PPA who could benefit from SLT services.
Having been here in Chicago, America, for a week now I am still enjoying the brilliant cultural and professional opportunities. I spent nigh on 6 hours on the weekend wandering around the Art Institute here in Chicago reading about the collaborations between American and European architects and artists over the last couple of hundred years. This really drove home the value of the relationships and connections I am forging here at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC) at Northwestern University.
The CNADC is an amazing place and I have been welcomed by all. I have seen neuroscientists slicing up and mounting fragile pieces of brains, donated by people with PPA for research. I have spoken with the research co-ordinators who have shown me detailed neuro imaging studies and explained how they map grey and white matter using sophisticated software alongside the skilled human eye. I have observed research assistants testing participants with dementia using batteries of familiar and homegrown CNADC tests. I have observed clinical appointments and meetings. I have had the most fantastic opportunities to see research in action at this center of excellence.
And what have I learned and who have I met?
I have learned about the wide variety of studies happening withing this rich interdisciplinary team here at the CNADC. The PPA work being done is fascinating. The studies range from understanding the underlying pathologies of the different PPA variants to examining the pattern of cortical atrophy over the lifespan of the condition. There is work being done with people with dementia and their families to study the effectiveness of collaborative groups with local arts organisations (I was lucky enough to attend a group session) and story-telling studies also .
There is an exciting study called the Communication Bridge Speech Therapy study which hopes to better understand the effects of speech and language therapy on the communication abilities of people with aphasic dementia, including primary progressive aphasia (PPA). The therapy interventions are delivered remotely via a video-chat program and participants receive individualised speech and language therapy including scripts and communication aids. It is an exciting study which will hopefully be published in the near future.
The team here at CNADC are committed to international collaborations and have developed a website to foster international collaboration in PPA and also to serve as a compendium of patient-care resources related to PPA throughout the world:
So what next? I have another whole week here and the speech and language therapist and I have been discussing how we could connect, the research professors and I have been discussing the forthcoming FTD conference in Munich and I am excited about my next week here at CNADC.
There is lots more to read about the CNADC on their own website below: