Andrea Cail: Help stroke victims regain the power of speech

Graeme Clark, who suffered a stroke at the age of 42, has managed to return to running. Picture: Ian Jacobs
Graeme Clark, who suffered a stroke at the age of 42, has managed to return to running. Picture: Ian Jacobs
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Last year we highlighted the likely rise in the number of strokes across the UK – increasing by almost half in the next 20 years. This is a startling figure.

Most people are likely to know somebody who has had a stroke and will therefore know it strikes in an instant, without warning, and can lead to devastating consequences. In fact, stroke causes a greater range of disabilities than any other condition and it affects people of all ages.

During our Lost for Words campaign last month, we stressed the need for greater attention towards one of the more devastating effects of stroke – aphasia. Aphasia is a communication disability that affects speaking, understanding speech, reading, and/or writing. It does not affect intelligence.

While stroke isn’t the only cause of aphasia, it’s by far the largest. Approximately a third of the 120,000 stroke survivors living in Scotland will have this disability.

It is hard to understand how it must feel when simple, everyday tasks such as reading a text message, ordering a coffee, recognising numbers or saying “Happy New Year”, are a challenge. It is easy to take our ability to communicate for granted.

I have met a number of people in the last year living with aphasia after a stroke, who have all described the tremendous impact of living with the condition, the importance of speech and language therapy and support from family members, friends and communication groups.

Graeme Clark, a father of three children who had a stroke aged 42, said to me: “My speech was the biggest thing to happen to me. I could handle walking with a limp, but I couldn’t face not being able speak properly ever again. This was everything to me; my communication with my family, my job and basically just chatting to family and friends was a struggle, or I thought it was a struggle.”

Graeme’s speech and language therapist gave him the tools to help himself and, with her support, a few weeks after, Graeme was saying more than “yes/no”. As a result, he realised it was going to be a long, steady progress rather than a quick fix. He continued with his exercises for a long time after his stroke – his wife Moira practised with him. He still carries out exercises to improve his speech today.

It is no surprise that aphasia is in the top three topics of importance for research in Scotland for people living with stroke, their family members and healthcare professionals.

A study published last year predicted that around 50 per cent more people could be living with aphasia in less than 10 years’ time. Getting back to work and access to support for individuals and family members are key issues.

That is why the Stroke Association carried out its Lost for Words campaign to raise awareness of what aphasia is, the impact it has on people’s lives and how support for those with communication disabilities can make a big difference.

The Stroke Association has also funded vital research into a virtual reading tool to help people practise their speech.

The EVA PARK project has won an award for its innovative approach to assisting recovery for people with aphasia.

With the right help and support people affected by aphasia are able to find new ways to communicate, and can rebuild their lives.

You can help us support stroke survivors with aphasia by signing up to one of our three Resolution Runs (5K or 10K) taking place in Scotland. It’s the ideal event for families and friends who want to do something fun together while getting more active in 2018, and you can run, jog or walk the route.

Graeme Clark, mentioned earlier, has managed to return to running and completed the Edinburgh 5K Resolution Run last year. He admits that the atmosphere and calls of encouragement got him over the line and made him feel a million dollars.

Help people like Graeme today.

Funds raised through the Resolution Runs in Scotland will help the Stroke Association to fund vital research and support people affected by stroke – including those with aphasia in Scotland.

Go to www.stroke.org.uk/resolution to secure your place.

Andrea Cail is Director Scotland of the Stroke Association