Aphasia: The cruellest blow

For some, surviving a stroke can be a mixed blessing. These are the thousands of stroke sufferers who lose one of the most defining of human characteristics — the ability to communicate.

Indeed, the loss of powers of speech and comprehension — a condition known as aphasia — can be among the most frightening consequences of a stroke, says Linda Adler, Development Officer with the Toronto-based Pat Arato Aphasia Centre.

“Anybody who has had any sort of injury to the left side of the brain — whether from a stroke or an accident — is at risk of losing the ability to communicate properly,” says Adler, who also serves as a volunteer member of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario’s Stroke Recovery Committee. “That means anything to do with reading, writing, watching TV or comprehension can all be affected.

“The simplest daily tasks, whether it be getting on a bus, reading a menu or holding a meaningful discussion of any sort, becomes a nightmare, and very frustrating,” says Adler. “Aphasia doesn’t affect intelligence, so a patient can still have a brilliant mind, still want to discuss important matters, but really can’t express it.”

Aphasia affects people in difrent ways. For example, a stroke survivor may be unable to grasp a simple concept or follow straight forward instructions. Some speak nonsense, some use excessive profanity. Some speak very slowly, or say very little. Others repeat the same phrases over and over again.

But what can be done to help those suffering from aphasia?

“After the patient has left hospital, they come to centres like ours to relearn communications skills. We’ll teach them how to deal with situations where they may have forgotten the appropriate response when asked a question, or to solve problems by finding an alternative.”

The first establishment of its kind in North America, the Pat Arato Aphasia Centre — named for its founder who’s husband suffered from aphasia — now attracts people from across the world to train in its techniques. As a result, similar centres are springing up elsewhere in Canada providing the resources to help aphasia sufferers and their caregivers.

To learn more about aphasia and the Pat Arato Aphasia Centre, visit their website at www.aphasia.on.ca, or telephone (416) 226-3636.


Dr. Ken Walker practises medicine in Toronto and also writes under the pen name of Gifford-Jones.—>