March 2009 Volume 6 Issue 1
McGill Speech-Language Pathology Students Help to Convey Hope After Aphasia
Authors: Isabelle Allain and Alla Sorokin
Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that results from brain damage, most often from strokes. Lack of public awareness of aphasia is disturbing as aphasia can affect anyone and can carry a devastating impact on a person’s quality of life. How we react and communicate with people afflicted with aphasia may worsen or reduce their degree of handicap. It is extremely important to raise public awareness of aphasia and champion the needs of individuals and their families living with the serious repercussions of this communication disorder. This is indeed what the Association québécoise des personnes aphasiques (AQPA) strives to accomplish. The AQPA was the first association created for people living with aphasia in Quebec. Its mission is to provide them with a support system and a sense of belonging. The AQPA offers social and recreational opportunities as well as information about available resources and services. Independence and social reintegration are targeted outcomes and are at the core of improving the quality of life of individuals afflicted with aphasia. Several different kinds of services are provided, including conversation groups that are led by Darla Orchard, a speech-language pathologist, and students from McGill’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
Though more common than Parkinson’s disease, aphasia still remains an unfamiliar subject to many Canadians. It is estimated that close to 100,000 Canadians are currently living with aphasia. Of the 50,000 Canadians who suffer a stroke annually, 75% of survivors are left with a chronic disability, which can include aphasia (Aphasia Centre of Ottawa; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Quebec). There are different subtypes of aphasia, and severity of symptoms varies between individuals. Symptoms include difficulties speaking and/or understanding language, and impairments in reading, writing and/or math can also be present. Although sensory and physical disabilities are excluded in the definition of aphasia, they can accompany it as a result of brain damage. Aphasia has repercussions for every sphere of life; social isolation and loss of employment are among common consequences. Furthermore, although aphasia does not affect a person’s intellectual capacity, it can sadly mask intelligence by rendering an individual incapable of expressing his/her thoughts, feelings and needs.
Since aphasia carries long-term repercussions for an individual’s daily living, it is critical to provide services that extend beyond rehabilitation services. Through the AQPA, individuals afflicted with aphasia meet on a weekly basis to engage in group conversations and activities in French or English. Among English activities offered are conversation and language stimulation groups three times a week, a choral singing group as well as a conversation and recreation group on Saturdays. Moreover, the AQPA sponsors outings, such as an upcoming visit to a sugar house.
Weekly English conversation and language stimulation groups were started in 2008 to respond to a shortage of services for Anglophones living with aphasia. As part of their practicum experiences, once a week for 12 weeks, six McGill students plan and facilitate conversation and language stimulation groups, so that everyone present can participate to the best of their ability. Conversation topics can be anything from aphasia to restaurants to politics, and language stimulation activities focus on areas of possible difficulties from aphasia, such as word finding, writing, reading, gestures, numbers and public speaking. All individuals with aphasia are welcome to attend group activities at the AQPA. Presently, 29 people are participating in weekly activities, some more than once a week. Individuals differ in age, subtype of aphasia, and degree of severity of aphasia; nevertheless, they share a life-changing experience and can better understand the everyday challenges each faces. Group facilitators said they believe conversation and language stimulation groups provide a sense of community, belonging and hope to people who are living through something similar. Furthermore, they offer people with aphasia an opportunity to practice and improve their communication skills with various conversation partners as well as an opportunity to interact, laugh and participate in social activities together.
Finally, families of individuals afflicted with aphasia are invited to social outings, and organized groups with family members are projects that will hopefully be brought to fruition in the future, explains Darla Orchard. She adds free computer training is a new activity offered by the AQPA during this month of March. With limited resources, people working at the AQPA do as much as they can to impart hope after aphasia.
For more information on the AQPA, call 514-277-5678 or visit Association québécoise des personnes aphasiques .
For more information on conversation and language stimulation groups, contact Darla Orchard, speech-language pathologist, darla [dot] orchard [at] mcgill [dot] ca.