Never forgetting her first patient

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Research Story
Dr. Regina Jokel
It’s been almost 30 years and Dr. Regina Jokel still remembers the client who inspired her research on a rare dementia that robs individuals of their language and communication abilities.

Dr. Jokel, a speech-language pathologist at Baycrest’s Sam and Ida Ross Memory Clinic and clinician associate with the Rotman Research Institute, was preparing to start her winter holidays when she was called to evaluate a new client with unusual language symptoms. The individual was still employed and went about his day-to-day life, but he could not communicate.

He became the first patient in Canada to be diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia (PPA), a neurodegenerative disorder that attacks a person’s language abilities first, before affecting other cognitive skills.

“When I realized he had PPA, I quickly ran to consult the literature on what steps should be taken,” says Dr. Jokel, who is also an assistant professor in the department of speech-language pathology at the University of Toronto. “My search came up with nothing.”

Based on that experience, Dr. Jokel was inspired to acquire her PhD and design the first individual and group language interventions for PPA patients to fill the existing void and also reduce the demand on other health services.

Currently, she is evaluating an intervention combining a language therapy with brain stimulation and exploring communication benefits among PPA patients. She is also developing a free website to help older adults manage the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, a common difficulty aging adults face when trying to find the right word during a conversation.

“My patients really inspired me to conduct clinical research in PPA,” says Dr. Jokel. “Communication is such an integral part of our lives so I wanted to create language-based interventions that could contribute to their well-being.”
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