Adult Language Processing & Disorders Lab

Jeff Small, Ph.D., Director & Associate Professor

Acquired language disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, aphasia; memory and communication strategies and interventions; adult language processing/psycholinguistics


Research in the ALPD lab falls within three complementary thematic domains:

1: The first theme focuses on investigating how a memory training program called “Spaced Retrieval” (SR) might be effectively applied in helping persons with Alzheimer’s disease or Mild Cognitive Impairment improve their recent memory (Small, 2012, 2013; Small & Cochrane, under review; Oren, Willerton & Small, 2014)). The goals of this research are to 1) advance our understanding of how different memory systems interact in Alzheimer’s disease, and 2) provide persons with Alzheimer’s disease with a memory strategy that has the potential to improve their recall of details from recent events and thereby facilitate their everyday communication.

2: My second research theme involves identifying factors that influence the quality of communication in interactions between persons with dementia and those who provide them with care, and developing interventions to enhance communication with and for persons who have dementia:

  1. One arm of this collaborative research focuses on the use and effectiveness of a number of communication strategies in everyday contexts. Our findings have led to the development of a communication intervention program (TRACED) for family care partners of persons with dementia (Small & Perry, 2013).
  2. Another avenue of this research investigates the nature and outcomes of communication between staff and residents in long-term care settings when there is a match or mismatch in their language and/or cultural backgrounds (Small, Chan, Drance, Globerman, Hulko, Jones, O’Connor, Stern, 2012; Small, Chan, Drance, Globerman, Hulko, O’Connor, & Ho, 2015).
  3. A third stream in this domain is research carried out in collaboration with Dr. Rozanne Wilson and Diana Cochrane. This research examines the impact of using communication strategies by long-term care staff when interacting with residents during activities of daily living. A recent grant study is exploring how the use of communication apps on mobile devices may facilitate communication between long-term care staff and residents who have cognitive and/or linguistic challenges (Wilson, Cochrane, Mihailidis, & Small, under review).

3: The third area of ALPD research is primarily carried out by research students working under my supervision. This includes experimental research that addresses how different language and cognitive domains interact in supporting language processing and communication. For example:

  • How lower level (e.g., acoustic-perceptual) and higher level (e.g., grammatical) processes draw upon resource capacity in language comprehension
  • The effects of experience with different aspects of language (e.g., words, sentence structure) on language comprehension
  • How episodic and semantic memory support language processing

The following are topics of studies previously conducted by M.Sc. thesis students:

  • systematic review of spaced retrieval training for persons with dementia
  • the effects of bimodal cueing in aphasia
  • perceptual adjustment to compressed speech by younger and older adults
  • the nature of the working memory resources required for sentence processing
  • the roles of working memory capacity and familiarity with accents in comprehending sentences spoken by non-native English speakers
  • neighborhood onset density and inhibitory effects on lexical access in speech production
  • the roles of segmental and suprasegmental information in word recognition
  • the influence of text on spoken word recognition
  • the role of lexical and phonological characteristics on speech perception by children with specific language impairment
  • Language control in bilingual lexical selection

The ALPD lab is equipped for conducting both experimental and qualitative research studies.

Funding support for much of the research conducted in the ALPD lab has come from:

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Alzheimer Society of Canada
  • Canadian Frailty Network
  • Vancouver Foundation (B.C. Medical Services Foundation)
  • Centre for Research on Personhood in Dementia (UBC)
  • Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research