Monday, January 16, 2012

Bill Lohmann: Seeking the right words about aphasia

Elaine Ackman has spent much of her life speaking — in voice and deeds — on behalf of others.
Now she struggles to find the right words.
Ackman, 80, of Henrico County, suffers from aphasia, a communication disorder that affects the expression and comprehension of language — the same condition that afflicts Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose aphasia was brought on by a brain injury caused by a gunshot wound to the head.
In Ackman's case, the culprit was a stroke, the most common cause of aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association. As far as speaking, she has had to relearn almost everything.
"I couldn't remember anything," Ackman said Tuesday, sitting at her kitchen table Tuesday morning, as she tried to recall that day almost five years ago when the words went away.
The road back has been long. Through intensive therapy and the great support of family and friends, Ackman has regained much of her ability to communicate, but not all. To look at her, you would have no clue she has any problem at all, no idea of the frustration she feels when she tries to express herself and simply can't.
"She gets stuck on a lot of words, and she doesn't have a lot of confidence when it comes to talking to people," said Lynn Burris, one of Ackman's four children. She sometimes finds it easier to just say nothing.
Which is why Burris thought it would be helpful for her mother to connect with other aphasia patients. She believes meeting others facing the same challenges would make her mom less self-conscious and could go a long way to helping her grow more comfortable talking to others....Next