Aphasia Recovery Program Heals and Builds a Community

aphasia stroke recovery

Melinda Corwin, Ph.D., professor and director for the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Health Professions Stroke/Aphasia Recovery (STAR) Program has been working in speech pathology for years. She says aphasia is challenging for those who have survived a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

“It typically happens with damage to the left side of the brain and manifests differently in every survivor,” Corwin said. “Strokes often are the cause of aphasia, but can also be brought on by a primary progressive aphasia (PPA) such as dementia. Aphasia is a loss of language that can manifest as difficulty reading, writing, speaking and understanding words or numbers.”

The STAR program focuses on creating a community for stroke survivors, their caregivers (family members and friends), speech-language pathology graduate students and faculty members to build communication skills.

“We have 10 small groups and every group has a personality of its own,” Melinda Corwin, Ph.D., professor and director for the STAR Program said. “They may have difficulty speaking, but when they are given the personalized tools to communicate, their lives improve drastically. We now have groups whose members sustained damage to the right side of their brain, which controls tone and rhythm of voice, in addition to groups whose members sustained damage to the left side of the brain which affects speech and language. Every person needs personalized care. No two cases are alike.”

At the STAR end-of-year luncheon, awards were given to outstanding community members for their support of people with communication challenges.

“We must all treat others in kind,” Pastor Mark Porter, a recipient of the Life Participation community award, said. “They may have difficulty expressing their ideas, but their mind is still there, all their skills are still there. They can still do accounting and they can still tell jokes and stories. Life can be difficult for those with aphasia, but with a strong community, they can truly thrive.”

This year, another special group added to the STAR Program includes members with Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), a special type of aphasia caused by a progressive disease. Logan Chandler, a first-year speech pathology graduate student, works with this group called Pilgrim’s Progress.

“They are so supportive of each other,” Chandler said. “They will help each other by trying to complete thoughts and are patient listeners. One person in our group has great difficulty speaking, but when we play music, she can sing every word. We can provide strategies to help maintain their communication abilities for as long as possible.”

Another group within the STAR Program, Stroke of Genius, is facilitated by first-year speech pathology student Brooke Hannemann.

“Strokes on the right side of the brain can cause a monotone voice and issues with speech rhythm,” Hannemann said. “Most of our members return to work, and we help them make phone calls, leave emails and ask questions with vocal inflection. We work on their emphasis with musical trivia. They love music, especially classic rock. The STAR Program brings people together and creates a community. Each individual has their own goals and obstacles, but they are united in lifting each other up and improving their lives.”

First-year graduate student Taylor Felan works with Minds of the Round Table, a mostly nonverbal group. Minds of the Round Table has been a part of the STAR Program for 19 years. At their end-of-year luncheon, they put their developed skills into action as they presented the cake.

“If you stepped into the room, you may not notice at first they have aphasia,” Felan said. “They are always laughing and joking around. They’ve known each other for so long, which has helped them build confidence and relationships. I like tailoring their individual care to meet their personal needs.”

The STAR Program concluded their activities for the Spring 2017 semester, but will begin its Fall 2017 meetings in September. Contact Corwin at 806-743-9050 for more information on the STAR Program.

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