You might hear these terms thrown around in your clinic visit. Here’s a simple guide to understanding some commonly used neurological lingo.

Aphasia: Aphasia is a general inability to produce and/or understand language. There are many types of aphasia. At the Penn FTD Center, we primarily study semantic variant primary progressive aphasia (svPPA), non-fluent, agrammatic primary progressive aphasia (naPPA), and logopenic variant primary progressive aphasia (lvPPA). Individuals with svPPA may not have problems producing speech, but lose the meanings of words. Individuals with naPPA lose the ability to speak fluently, but still retain the meanings of words. Individuals with lvPPA have slowed speech, impaired grammar, and impaired naming. See Nurses Corner for ideas about interventions!

Apraxia: Apraxia is an inability to perform tasks caused by damage to certain areas of the brain. These individuals may be generally coordinated and understand how tasks should be done, but are unable to plan their motor movements accordingly. One of the ways a neurologist assesses a patient for apraxia is to ask the patient to pretend he/she is using a hammer. Individuals with apraxia may not be able to perform this task.

Biomarker: A biomarker, or biological marker, is a measure used to indicate a disease state. For example, cerebrospinal fluid, blood, results of cognitive testing, and MRI images are all measures of a patient’s condition. We can use biomarkers to diagnose, develop and monitor treatments, and determine how diseases progress.

Cognitive reserve: Cognitive reserve refers to the brain’s ability to bounce back from or combat a disease or injury. Individuals with a high level of education, demanding careers, and large social circles may be able to withstand greater amounts of stress from disease, before showing clinical symptoms.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET Scan): A PET scan creates an image by detecting energy emitted from a tracer injected into the bloodstream. Some tracers mark specific proteins, and the resulting image shows where these proteins are located. Another type of tracer is a form of sugar that the brain uses as an energy source. The resulting image shows where the sugar is being used more or less, which tells doctors where there is high and low energy use in the brain.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS): tDCS is a non-drug intervention that can be helpful for individuals with primary progressive aphasia. tDCS uses electrodes placed on the outside of the scalp to deliver a low level of electrical current (about as much as a 9 volt battery). Our lab specifically uses this technique to enhance language functions, such as speech fluency.

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