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Aphasia Strikes Stroke Victims
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: My wife suffered a stroke early last year that left her with weakness of her right arm and leg and speech difficulties (aphasia). She is 79 and I am 81, and while it took me some time to understand the nature of her impairment, we get along just fine, play cards with friends, etc. But none of our three children lives nearby, and none has taken the time to understand that their mother, although impaired, has not lost her intelligence and can understand what is said to her. Shes simply slow in responding. When our kids visit, they lose patience with her, and that is frustrating to her, me, and them. Meanwhile, our grandchildren treat their grandmother as though she is a freak. Im ready to tell them all not to bother visiting anymore, but I know that wont be the best thing to do. Can you suggest any resources that can help our family?

Answer: Although more Americans suffer from aphasia than multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy, most people dont know what aphasia is or how to deal with the approximately one in 250 individuals who suffer from it.

Aphasia is a communication disorder that impairs the ability to process language that is, speaking and understanding other people. In most patients, this includes difficulties in reading, writing, finding words, understanding what is said, using numbers, and making appropriate gestures. But as you know, aphasia does not affect intelligence.

While aphasia may be caused by strokes, motor vehicle wrecks and other accidents that permanently damage the neurological connections inside the brain account for an increasing number of cases. Sometimes, infection can cause sudden brain damage, while, in others, aphasia can be a gradual degenerative brain condition. Generally, when symptoms continue for several months after the causative event, complete recovery is unlikely. Yet some folks improve slowly over the years. For these reasons, the family should not only understand the affliction, but also learn about alternate ways to communicate.

First on the list, we believe, is for family members and friends to understand that unlike those with dementia and Alzheimer's disease whose ideas and thoughts are disrupted by the illness, individuals with aphasia simply have difficulty accessing and communicating their ideas and thoughts through language. This is something that your children and grandchildren must understand as there is no sense in family visits becoming dreaded events.

Some tips for your children and their families that may help in the communication process include: 1) Make sure to give your wife enough time to speak, 2) Do not complete her sentence unless asked to do so, 3) Be sensitive to background noises, and turn off television sets, music, etc., when communicating, and 4) Use drawings and gestures rather than speech when appropriate.

Based on a study by the National Aphasia Association, 90 percent of the participants with aphasia believe there is little public awareness about this disability. As a result, those afflicted with aphasia tend to perceive themselves as being isolated and misunderstood which, in turn, often leads to greater loneliness and, sometimes, depression. Based upon our reader inquiries, we believe this to be true.
While the use of pharmaceutical therapy is being tested to improve the functioning of the damaged brain, presently there is no known cure for aphasia. Due to the increasing number of cases, more public awareness is essential. In fact, Aphasia Awareness Day is June 10, 2004. For more information, call the National Aphasia Association at 800-922-4522 or our web readers scroll up to the useful links page to find that link.

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