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Dr. Alana Kozlowski
Photo by Bob Linder

Dr. Alana Kozlowski

Assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders

Aphasia music-making group
Clark Keller Dr. Alana Kozlowski and graduate student Clara Keller address members of the aphasia music-making group and their families. Photos by Bob Linder

“In our circles, there are not any other people with aphasia. She doesn’t feel like she stands out here. Music comes out when words don’t.” — Aphasia choir participant whose wife experienced a stroke

Her research

Kozlowski started a music-making group for people with a communication disorder called aphasia. Those with aphasia have intact cognition, but their ability to comprehend and express language — i.e., reading, listening, writing and speaking — is impaired.

Aphasia is caused by an injury to the left hemisphere of the brain, but the right hemisphere controls response to the components of music.

Therefore, those with aphasia may respond more easily to music than other forms of communication.

Participants in the group can hum, tap, sing or just be among friends and relax.

How this project helps people

Imagine you have suffered a serious stroke. You are unable to speak or follow a conversation. Since you cannot use language to connect with your family and friends, you become frustrated and depressed. You may identify yourself as the head of a household, but now you are the recipient of care. Your spouse or child has assumed the role of care-provider. The relationships in your family are feeling unbalanced because the power status has changed.

Instead of focusing on what people with aphasia cannot do, Kozlowski and her graduate students are emphasizing what those who struggle with verbalization can do and building on those strengths.

The music-making group is a way for those with aphasia to have a rewarding, relaxing activity in an environment where they are back on equal footing with those who care for them.

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How the project is measured

Kozlowski and her graduate students are using the Quality of Communication Life Scale, a tool developed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, to determine if participating in the music-making sessions has helped people with aphasia gain confidence in their communication abilities and/or living with their communication disorder.