Edie Babbitt, PhD


Ask the Expert: Edie Babbitt, PhD, on Aphasia


Each month, we invite Shirley Ryan AbilityLab community members to submit questions via social media to our clinicians and researchers for our “Ask the Expert” series.

Our latest featured expert is Edie Babbitt, PhD, a research speech-language pathologist at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. She is an expert in aphasia — a condition that can occur suddenly after a stroke or brain injury and impacts a person’s ability to speak and understand language, reading and writing.

In the following Q&A, Dr. Babbitt provides insight about different types of aphasia, how families and caretakers can support people with aphasia, and more.

What is aphasia?


Aphasia results from damage to the language areas of the brain, most often on the left side. The damage results in difficulties impacting speech, understanding, reading and writing.

Are there different types of aphasia?


The two most common types of aphasia are Broca's aphasia and Wernicke's aphasia.

In Broca's aphasia, which we also call non-fluent aphasia, the patient has trouble finding the words they want to say and their production contains single words or short phrases. In Wernicke’s aphasia, the person may sound like they are speaking fluently, but what they are saying may not make sense to the listener. So, it can be difficult to understand what they are trying to say.

Each type of aphasia corresponds to damage in specific regions of the brain.

Is aphasia the same as dementia?


This is a great question. No, aphasia is not the same as dementia. They are two different medical conditions. We know that people who have aphasia due to stroke continue to make progress and improve even years after their onset.

Dementia is a neurological process in which neurons or cells, and parts of the brain, gradually die — and the person becomes progressively worse. There is a type of dementia called primary progressive aphasia, but that's different from aphasia due to stroke.

How can I support someone with aphasia?


This, again, is a great question. My patients with aphasia have all said that having patience is the best thing someone can do to help them. This means giving the person time to process what others are saying and time to formulate their responses.

Another way to support a person with aphasia is to ask them if they want help trying to find the words they want to say. Also, you can write keywords on paper or use drawings or other visuals to help support the message.

How can I be an advocate for my loved one with aphasia to help them with their medical decision-making?


Ask their physician or other healthcare professional to talk directly to the person with aphasia.  Also, make sure to ask for materials that explain medical conditions or issues in an aphasia-friendly way: drawing pictures or graphics, simplifying text or writing keywords, using a slower rate of speech and giving opportunities to ask questions. These are all ways to support medical decision-making.

How did you become interested in studying aphasia?


Way back in high school, I knew I wanted to work in a medical field. I explored physical, occupational and speech therapy, as well as psychology.

The speech pathologist I shadowed talked about the impact of not being able to communicate after having a stroke and aphasia, and how that could lead to psychological difficulties. That really interested me in wanting to make a difference in people's lives. My career is especially rewarding as each patient I've worked with has taught me something.

Can you explain your role at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab today?


I’ve worn many, many different hats over the years since I started at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in 1998.

In my clinical role, I started as a speech-language pathologist and transitioned into research. I have worked on many different projects, including community groups, brain stimulation, developing wearable sensors and looking at how patients with aphasia can rate their communication confidence. Currently, I manage our intensive aphasia program.

What new aphasia research are you working on at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab?


We have a really exciting new study to examine something called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). This is a non-invasive imaging technique that measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood oxygen levels. It can monitor real brain activity, monitor changes in brain functioning and identify specialized regions for aphasia. In our study, we are aiming to understand how oxygen levels change in real-time when patients with aphasia perform language tasks.

The Center for Aphasia Research & Treatment at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab


Read more about how the Center for Aphasia Research & Treatment at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab treats patients from around the world who are living with aphasia and relearning how to communicate after a stroke or injury.

Let's get connected.

Request an appointment