/

Aphasia: a little known speech condition that cripples lives

David and his wife Michaela.

Speech Pathology Week, from 22-28 August, aims to raise awareness of communication disability for the 1.2 million Australians who struggle to converse.

SEVENTY-year-old David George*, a retired naval architect of 45 years, suffered a stroke during his sleep.  

The next morning he was on the phone with his son.

His wife, Michaela, noticed his garbled speech and rushed him to hospital.

“I experienced no pain,” Mr George said.

“I just had a sense of total confusion. I didn’t know who I was or where I was; it was very scary.”

Mr George now suffers from aphasia, which affects a person’s ability to express and understand written and spoken language.

“I was a person who valued my ability to talk and was quite talkative,” he said

“I wasn’t able to order a coffee at a café because I couldn’t say the word: coffee. It’s been very difficult for me.”

Speech pathologist Sam Harvey of La Trobe University in Melbourne believes that there are over 100,000 people living with aphasia in Australia.

“That’s more than Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis combined,” Mr Harvey said.

“Aphasia is a common problem after a stroke, but one out of 10 Australians have never heard of aphasia.”

Mr Harvey believes that aphasia has changed David’s personal identity, impacted his personal relationships, and his ability to go back to work.

“It causes a poorer quality of life than many other debilitating conditions like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease; Aphasia is worse so it’s a big problem,” Sam said.  

Speech Pathology Week, from 22-28 August, aims to raise awareness of communication disability for the 1.2 million Australians who struggle to converse.

Speech Pathology Australia’s president Tim Kittel, wants Australians to know that communication is a human right, and support like speech therapy, is widely available.

“If one in seven Australians are having difficulties understanding and using language, their entire ability to access and influence the world is impaired,” Mr Kittel said.

“When people can communicate effectively, they thrive.”

Children with communication disabilities are more likely to be suspended from school, and many people in juvenile and adult justice settings have a communication disorder.

Intervention is required to drive improvement on health illiteracy and to spotlight associated injustices.    

“People who can’t communicate, who can’t understand information, or who can’t structure coherent arguments, are ultimately at risk of being overlooked, and not having their rights respected,” Mr Kittel said. 

For Mr George, speech therapy hasn’t always been accessible.

When his primary speech pathologist in the Blue Mountains moved away, he was without a therapist for a number of months.

“That made me upset when I found out David didn’t have access to a therapist,” Mr Harvey said.

He invited David to contribute to his research into aphasia.

“People like David will continue to get better if they have the therapy,” Mr Harvey added.  

He said the silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic was telehealth, providing regional patients, like Mr George, greater access to a speech therapist.

“Without COVID, I don’t think this therapy option would have been available to us,” Mr Harvey said.

“Whether you live in Melbourne or Alice Springs, you should be able to have the therapy that you need.

“Work needs to be done to make sure there’s equity in healthcare,” he said.

Mr George’s speech is slowly improving as he practices his exercises every day at his computer.

“Sam helped me enormously with my comprehension and speech over the many weeks when we were together on Zoom.

“It was his research into aphasia that I found very beneficial,” he said.

“Sam has been a very important component on my road to recovery, and I will be forever grateful to Sam.”

One day Mr George again hopes, to have an articulate conversation with his wife on their daily morning walks, to read his science books, and play the piano.

“I feel more confident with my speech now, but I’m not there yet,” he said.

“The more therapy I have the better off I will be.”

*David’s surname has been withheld for privacy reasons.

close

LET’S KEEP IN TOUCH!

We’re sorry!

We hate annoying pop-up windows too, but before you hit the x button, please take three seconds and subscribe to our website for free. We’re a team of dedicated volunteer journalists and we’d really appreciate your support by supporting us by subscribing below. 

Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities and currently works at Redkite, a childhood cancer charity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

LET’S KEEP IN TOUCH!

We’re sorry!

We hate annoying pop-up windows too, but before you hit the x button, please take three seconds and subscribe to our website for free. We’re a team of dedicated volunteer journalists and we’d really appreciate your support by supporting us by subscribing below.