MRRI Participant Spotlight: Jennifer Derry

Research has been a part of Jennifer Derry’s life for many years, even before she was diagnosed with a stroke and aphasia, a condition that impacts a person’s ability to express and understand language.

When Jenn was in college, she participated in research studies in the areas of neuroscience, psychology, and cognition. Later, she worked for a company that did clinical research for mental health conditions, such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Following her stroke, Jenn spent about a month in inpatient rehabilitation at Moss. Afterwards, she was excited to have the opportunity to participate in research at MRRI. “My experience as a participant in MRRI research has been positive. Not only is it stimulating and exciting for me, but it helps to keep me sharp and keep learning,” she said.

Recently, Jenn participated in a study exploring an animal-assisted treatment program for individuals with aphasia called The Persons with Aphasia Training Dogs (PATD) Program. In this study, led by Sharon Antonucci, PhD, CCC-SLP, individuals with aphasia learn and implement positive reinforcement techniques to train dogs in basic obedience skills. The goal is to harness the strengths of individuals with aphasia and the benefits of human-animal interactions to target treatment of some of the psychosocial consequences of aphasia, such as social isolation and loss of self-confidence.

Jenn participated in the program with her dog Lola (pictured above). “We both benefited from it,” Jenn noted. “It helped me practice training with my dog and learn spoken commands. I really loved the study, and I felt proud when I was able to complete it, she continued.”

Beyond her involvement in research studies at MRRI, Jenn has been actively involved in activities at the MossRehab Aphasia Center. She discovered the Virtual Reta’s Games Group during the COVID-19 pandemic. “As horrible as covid was, there was also a bright side for me, because I was brought together with wonderful people and given the opportunity to meet virtually,” she explained.

Each week the Aphasia Center holds Reta’s Games Group meetings where participants engage in card games, board games, and discussions that allow people to practice their communication skills while having fun together. When reflecting on her experiences at these meetings, Jenn said, “I really enjoy the Virtual Reta’s Games Group. Everyone is very welcoming — the host Roberta Brooks, every person with aphasia, and specifically the facilitator Nikki Benson-Watlington who brings her happiness and support to others with her warm-heartedness, consideration, and positivity.”

Through activities at the MossRehab Aphasia Center and research studies at MRRI, Jenn has been able to connect with other individuals with aphasia and continue to make progress towards her communication goals. Jenn is also a co-founder of the Mid-Atlantic Aphasia Conference, an education and advocacy for people living with aphasia in the Tri-State area.  Her advice for others with aphasia speaks volumes about the value of these opportunities. “Do it all!!! Research and activities,” Jenn advised. She went on to explain that “You will be associating with other people who have aphasia. You will have fun and be involved with skilled professionals who are knowledgeable and caring.”

The MossRehab Aphasia Center prides itself on being a warm and welcoming place where people with aphasia and their friends and families can get information and support to help meet their long-term communication and psychosocial needs. The Aphasia Center also provides excellent opportunities for members to get involved in research and treatment programs. MRRI is grateful for the important contributions of research volunteers, and the Institute is honored to be a part of their journey of rehabilitation and recovery.