My name is Kellyann Lea; I am a Stroke Specialist Speech and Language Therapist working in independent practice. This year I had the good fortune of being able to source funding to provide speech therapy to people with aphasia*. The finances were offered by a very kind and altruistic gentleman whom I had the great pleasure of treating.
This gentleman returned to work following his stroke after intensive speech and language therapy. With dedication and lots of hard work he made his way back to being the businessman he had been prestroke. Grateful for his financial situation, which meant he could afford to access private sector therapy, this gentleman wanted to fund others who may not be quite so fortunate and who really needed the treatment.
I approached The Brain Charity, who welcomed this offer with open arms. They have a group of people with aphasia, who were all helping each other to communicate, but none of whom saw a speech and language therapist for their aphasia. The group ranged from 2-20 years post stroke. In some cases it had been 15 years since any professional intervention for their speech and language difficulties. Often private therapy is too costly and NHS provided therapy has limitations in terms of the time offered to aphasic people, who live with the lifelong condition of aphasia post-stroke.
I offered a full assessment, with a goal setting activity for the group members to prioritise the key areas they wanted to improve in individually. They then received 6 weeks of therapy. This was a total of 12 hours of intervention per person. In the case study that follows, it is clear that even a small amount of intervention can have a big impact. The potential to improve was an option for each and every individual and all saw great benefits. We saw people reading and writing again for the first time, producing speech they never thought possible, expressing themselves creatively and re-finding their communicative identity.
I also spent some time equipping their communication support group with resources to help influence their meetings in a more ‘therapeutic way’ - with specific speech therapy tasks that they could jointly work on, each helping one another specifically.
I was honoured to work with all of these courageous people with aphasia, who run their own group to support each other. Rarely would one ever get to see such courage, bravery and vulnerability in any walk of life. This group of people with aphasia, who I of course now know as just wonderful people, are a true inspiration to us all.
Pamela, one of the course participants, tells us more:
“I had a stroke 5 years ago that resulted in right-sided limb weakness, scoliosis, expressive dyspraxia and aphasia. I couldn’t speak at all initially. I had speech therapy for 6 months which helped me to regain some basic speech but there was no ongoing improvement and my speech remained very limited. I then had another 6 months of therapy 3 years ago but there was very little improvement. I also have difficulty with reading and writing as my concentration is limited and I can only read for short periods of time.
"Words containing more than two syllables are a real challenge and I can’t remember how to spell words or put them in the right order to create a sentence. Having aphasia has affected my social life; not having the ability to communicate makes it very difficult to maintain friendships or make new ones as I’m afraid of not being understood or misunderstood. I worry what people will think of me so I avoid putting myself in unfamiliar situations with people I don’t know.
"My friends are the people that I’ve met at my stroke support group and at The Brain Charity; even within those groups I was lacking the confidence to join in conversations. Taking part in the speech therapy course has helped me to increase my vocabulary and I’m starting to speak in complete sentences which is something I’d not managed to do previously. An improvement in my speech has really boosted my confidence and I feel that I can start to go out and about more and meet new people as I sound ‘less different’ now.”
Pamela liked how the sessions were specifically tailored to each individual and found the advice of taking her time when speaking so she could think about what she wanted to say, rather than trying to rush her words out, really worked for her. The sessions also moved at a pace to suit her. We were able to run the speech therapy course for free on this occasion due to a generous private donation, but we hope to secure funding in the future to be able to carry on offering sessions so that others can benefit from the one to one therapy.
The ‘Stroke Friends’ support group meets on Monday afternoons at 2-4pm in the café at our Norton Street building and new members are always welcome.
* Aphasia is an impairment of language which affects the production or comprehension of speech along with the ability to read and write. Aphasia can happen when there is a brain injury and most commonly occurs following a stroke.