NEW YORK, June 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Over 1 million Americans struggle with the devastation of aphasia, a sudden-onset, communication disorder that impairs the ability to read, write, speak or understand speech. There are over 200,000 new cases each year, and the numbers are expected to rise dramatically as America's population ages and Iraq War veterans return home with head injuries.
"Aphasia is more common than cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy or spinal cord injuries, yet most have never heard of it," says Ellayne S. Ganzfried, executive director of the National Aphasia Association (NAA). "Our mission is to educate the public about aphasia and help people with aphasia get back into society."
"Imagine suddenly one day you may not be able to speak your name, write a note or understand what you hear on the radio. Your intellect is intact, but you cannot express yourself or understand others. That's what it's like to have aphasia," says Ganzfried. The causes are stroke (25-40% of stroke survivors acquire aphasia), head injury, brain tumor or neurological conditions. Common among older people, aphasia can occur in people of all ages, nationalities, socio-economic backgrounds and equally among men and women.
"I was unable to move my right side, sit up or say a word, but I could still think. It was devastating, especially to be robbed of my language skills," says the former high-school English and drama teacher. After months of intensive physical rehabilitation and two years of intensive speech- language therapy five times a week, Martin was able to regain her life and return to teaching part-time.
"There is no cure for aphasia, but speech-language therapy helps us cope. Most importantly, it was the love and support of my family and friends that motivated me to persevere," says Martin. "Too often, people with aphasia are treated as outsiders or ignored at a time when being included in life is critical to our recovery."
According to Ganzfried, aphasia makes work and social interaction especially challenging. An NAA survey found: over 70 percent of people with aphasia were not able to work or needed to find less-demanding jobs. 70 percent felt people avoided contact with them because of their difficulty communicating. 90 percent felt isolated, left out, ignored and lonely.
"It is critical that all of us help people with aphasia reconnect with their communities," says Ganzfried. "All it takes is understanding, patience and a few commonsense strategies to help improve communication."
NAA offers advice for communicating with people with aphasia: 1) Have the person's attention before you speak. 2) Minimize or eliminate background noise (TV, radio, other people). 3) Keep your own voice at a normal level. 4) Keep communication simple, but adult. 5) Give them time to speak, resist the urge to finish sentences or offer words. 6) Communicate with drawings, gestures, writing and facial expressions. 7) Confirm that you are communicating successfully with "yes" and "no" questions. 8) Praise all attempts to speak and downplay any errors. 9) Engage in normal activities whenever possible. 10) Encourage independence, avoid being overprotective.