Commentary

Abbe Simon: Help is available locally for people with aphasia

June 23, 2014 

Have you ever had the “It’s on the tip of my tongue” feeling?

Do you ever say the wrong word when you mean to say something else?

Have you ever been in a country where you couldn’t read the language?

Have you ever tried to understand someone speaking a language you did not understand?

Are there times when you are unsure how to spell a word?

Can you imagine experiencing these things ALL of the time? People who have Aphasia struggle with these issues on a daily basis.

About one million people in the United States have aphasia. It is more prevalent than Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or Muscular Dystrophy. According to the National Aphasia Association, an estimated 200,000 cases of aphasia are reported each year.

Stroke is the leading cause of aphasia and approximately 25-40 percent of stroke survivors have aphasia. Since the incidence of stroke doubles with each decade of life, it is projected that as our population continues to increase and age, up to two million people may have aphasia by 2020.

In most individuals, language function is housed on the left side of the brain. Depending on the precise location of where the stroke, brain tumor, TBI, swelling, or infection occurred, the symptoms of aphasia will vary. Classically, one may experience difficulty speaking, following conversation, reading, and/or writing.

Aphasia does NOT affect a person’s intellect, memory, or personality. While it is common to have weakness on the right side of the body, there are people with aphasia who have no physical limitations. Treatment of aphasia requires intervention by a skilled speech language pathologist in conjunction with strong caregiver support. Individualized therapy sessions are tailored toward a person’s specific needs and enhanced with the use of computerized programs and additional forms of technology when appropriate.

Group treatment has become an effective means of providing people with aphasia the opportunity to communicate in a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment. Throughout the country, aphasia centers have reached thousands of individuals whose lives have been impacted by the power of group support.

The Triangle Aphasia Project, Unlimited (TAP) is non-profit organization based in Cary that provides different groups in the region and beyond. Its purpose is to offer individuals a platform by which they can be among others who share the goal of enhancing their communication skills. Group topics range from reading, technology, returning to work, etc. TAP’s mission is to encourage people to engage in everyday, functional activities despite their language limitations. Groups are facilitated by certified speech language pathologists and are geared towards a life participation approach to treating aphasia.

During a recent “Aphasia Day,” TAP clients discussed the impact of aphasia and how they could help increase public awareness. What seemed to resonate for most was the feeling of frustration. Comments included, “I know what I want to say… but I just can’t get it out.” “You think you’re doing it right but it doesn’t sound right.” “We are smart. Our intellect is intact.”

Clients want others to know that despite having aphasia, some can still dance, ride a bike, drive, and we can all laugh!” When speaking is a challenge, the use of gestures, drawing, writing, or written choices can help get a message out. Communication partners need to be patient, speak slowly but not in a juvenile way, and reduce distractions. Recovery is different for everyone and progress can be made on an ongoing basis. There is no plateau!

Abbe Simon is a state-certified speech language pathologist who sees clients privately and runs groups at TAP. She can be contacted at icommunicare@hotmail.com

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