Finding the Right Words

Published 6/6/2018

We may take for granted our ability to communicate – to say what’s on our minds, to express our needs, to read and understand instructions. For people with aphasia, the simplest of tasks can become frustratingly difficult. Peter Andrews knows that frustration all too well. The former Bedford, New Hampshire resident suffered a severe stroke nearly nine years ago, impacting both his speech and his mobility.

“I couldn’t talk for a year,” he recalls. “The first thing my wife taught me was my glasses. She made me say it every day until I was finally able to say glasses.”

Aphasia is a language impairment caused by damage to the brain that impacts a person’s ability to produce or comprehend speech, either spoken or written. Someone with aphasia may recognize the object they’re looking at, but be unable to say what it is. They may hear and understand what another is telling them, but not be able to come up with the words to respond. Aphasia can affect a person’s ability to comprehend, read, speak, write, or any combination of effects.

“Any type of brain injury can cause this,” says speech language pathologist Jean Manning, CCC-SLP, of CMC’s Rehabilitation Medicine Unit (RMU). The most common cause is stroke. “Recovery is different for everyone. Sometimes there is spontaneous recovery and sometimes people will progress very slowly. We find people who are engaged in life will continue to make progress.”

In an effort to help people with aphasia stay engaged, CMC holds a monthly Aphasia Community Group. Patients in different stages of their recovery gather to work on skills by exercising the neuroplasticity of their brains – challenging their brains to form new connections around the damaged area by continued attempts at communication. Andrews went to his first meeting at CMC about nine months after his stroke.

“I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know myself really. There was probably 15 people or so and I didn’t know who was who or what was what or what was going on but I enjoyed it. After the meeting I felt I wanted to do it again.”

“It’s a great place for people to practice their skills without fear of social judgment,” says Manning. “This is a very positive group, not doom and gloom. People explore what works for each other while providing positive feedback and encouragement. Patients in the group setting will challenge themselves differently here than they would anywhere else.”

“When I met all of these people, they’re just the most amazing people that I’ve ever met,” says Andrews. “Nobody’s mad about anything. They’re always thinking about good things, which is so good for people who have had strokes.” While Andrews still can’t read or write, he has regained much of his verbal communication abilities and hopes to be able to walk normally again. He still faithfully attends an aphasia group closer to his new home in Massachusetts.

The Aphasia Community Group is free of charge and open to anyone with aphasia and their caregivers, regardless of whether they’ve been a CMC patient. Meetings happen on the fourth Tuesday of the month (excluding July, August, and December) on the RMU, Level F of CMC. (4:30-5:30 pm).

Please contact Jean Manning, CCC-SLP at 603.663.6694 or Larissa Hebert, CCC-SLP, 603.641.6700 for further information