Everyone has the right to communicate

Imagine waking up after a stroke to find your ability to communicate is gone. Perhaps you can no longer speak, understand the words others are saying to you, or read or write. This condition is known as aphasia and it affects one in three stroke survivors.

Crystal and Bob

Bob Tyndall working on exercises to improve his reading and writing skills with his wife Coy and Speech Language Pathologist Crystal Branco. Photo above: Crystal Branco and Bob and Coy Tyndall 

In the past, aphasia therapy ended once patients were discharged from their individual rehabilitation; however, evidence shows that with group therapy patients’ communication skills can continue to improve. Knowing this, speech language pathologists (SLPs) Crystal Branco and Sarah McSheffrey from the Thames Valley Community Stroke Rehabilitation Team (CSRT) launched two, eight-week Aphasia Groups in the London area: one for people who can speak, and one for people who are non-verbal. 

A verbal Aphasia Group in progress.

A verbal Aphasia Group in progress.

When Bob Tyndall awoke from his stroke he couldn’t speak a word, but he could understand what others were saying.  After Bob completed rehabilitation at Parkwood Institute, and in-home therapy from the CSRT, he joined one of the new Aphasia Groups. 

“Participating in the Aphasia group has given me the confidence to speak in front of others,” says Bob. If someone has trouble understanding him, he simply hands them a card that says: 

I had a stroke

In addition to improving speech and understanding, the groups also help participants learn to advocate for themselves and teach others how to communicate with them. People with aphasia are often mistakenly considered incompetent because they have trouble expressing what they know. As well, social isolation, decreased life participation and depression may result because most people do not know how to communicate effectively with people with aphasia.

After Lynn Brush’s stroke in 2016, his wife Linda was prepared for the worst case scenario:  that Lynn would not know her, understand her, or be able to care for himself.  But once Lynn came to Parkwood Institute he relearned how to walk and care of himself—therapies the CSRT continued once he returned home. 

While Lynn, a former mechanical engineer, can understand what’s being said to him, he has non-verbal aphasia and has trouble speaking – often repeating the same word over and over again. “While it’s frustrating for Lynn, we are fortunate it hasn’t changed his easy going personality - and his facial expressions speak volumes,” says Linda.  For Lynn, the Aphasia groups are helping him improve his speech, and meeting with others with Aphasia reassures him he is not alone. 

Linda and Lynn Brush and Sarah McSheffrey

“Everyone has the right to communicate; it’s what makes us human,” says Speech Language Pathologist Sarah McSheffrey, right, during one-on-one non-verbal therapy with participant Lynn Brush and his wife Linda

In addition to activities like warm-up exercises and group discussions, supported conversation is used during the Aphasia Group sessions, which involves therapists and volunteers using cues like pictures and pre-printed answers to facilitate communication. 

The CSRT is partnering with Dale Brain Injury Services (DBIS) in providing these Aphasia Groups, with rehabilitation facilitators from DBIS working side-by-side with the CSRT SLPs, rehabilitation therapists and volunteers to support stroke survivors. “By working together we are benefiting from one another’s expertise, maximizing our resources, and reaching more stroke survivors,” says Sue Hillis, Executive Director of Dale Brain Injury Services. 

“Aphasia Groups are so much more than communication therapy; they are a means of successful participation and human connections not obtained in other areas of their lives,” says Crystal. 

For more information on aphasia: www.aphasia.ca

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