Top Ascension Seton neurologist wins American Stroke Association research award for rehabilitative care


Tool developed by Steven Warach, MD, Ph.D., and Shilpa Shamapant, MS, MA, CCC-SLP helps speed assessment of speech therapy after stroke

Steven Warach, MD, Ph.D., Ascension Seton Brain and Spine Institute neurologist and professor of neurology at the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the American Stroke Association 2018 Stroke Rehabilitation Award for his research in stroke therapy.

Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.

Based on the research of Shilpa Shamapant, speech pathologist and president and co-founder of Austin Speech Lab, Warach and Shamapant developed a new tool to assess the effectiveness of speech therapy. Their research contributed to the development of the Communication Disability Scale, a way to rapidly assess the effect of speech therapy on stroke victims. Warach is among 10 leading researchers across the country who were honored by the American Stroke Association during its International Stroke Conference 2018 last month.

“The research award has helped introduce the new assessment tool to leaders in the field, and also increased the number of collaborators helping us to further evaluate the tool’s ability to test and improve speech therapies and outcomes for stroke survivors,” Warach said.

A new tool in the toolbox

Stroke can cause devastating physical, emotional, behavioral and communication challenges for survivors, their families and their caregivers. Access to affordable, long-term intensive speech, language and cognitive therapy can dramatically improve speech and the ability to communicate, even years after the stroke has occurred, Warach said.

“The existing tools take a long time to administer, require a speech-language pathologist to administer and interpret, and generate a numerical score of little meaning to anyone except a speech-language pathologist,” Warach said. “We needed a tool that was quick and simple to administer and interpret, meaningful to patients, caregivers, clinicians, and insurers, and can detect meaningful improvements in speech after therapy.”

Modeled after the modified Rankin Scale (mRS), which helps measure the degree of disability in stroke survivors, the Communication Disability Scale focuses specifically on speech and language deficits. It takes about five minutes to implement and interpret.

“This tool will help accelerate the time it takes to develop and prove the benefits of new therapies to treat post-stroke speech disabilities, thus enhancing rehabilitative care for stroke survivors,” Warach said.