Stroke and its language-hampering aftermath, known as Aphasia.
My mother had a stroke, as a consequence of having unmitigated atrial fibrillation. Her massive brain bleed left her unable to speech, so the staff and my father treated her as if she was deaf and dumb. When I witnessed my father conferring with a friend – in front of my mother – as if she’d lost all senses, I was silently insensed.
The speech therapist at her facility confined her work on my mother’s ability to swallow. While I agreed this was vital, I knew my mother understood conversation and she definitely didn’t deserve to be belittled. I went into action, slowly, gently coaxing her to speak up during my visits. My mom’s eyes twinkled – she was complicit, eager to regain control of her life.
Her first attempt, among a group of her friends that I’d coaxed to visit, was painful to watch, but I didn’t intervene. It’s certain she was aware that her message was too garbled for their comprehension, so she added gestures. Her friends smiled and we all nodded our heads.
The first hurdle linguistically jumped, my mother began to speak more: in longer phrases with immediacy.
Though communication was work for all of us, we were all engaged in the game. Her friends wanted her back in conversation. My mother was well-informed, empathic, and sweet.
While she could never fully recoup her severely damaged skills, including use of her right leg to walk, she no longer remained confined and inert in bed. She progressed to a wheelchair and so my sister and I were able to push her around the facility and its lovely grounds. We fed the ducks that clustered around the gazebo poised in the center of the small pond, colored Easter eggs with the grandkids, etc. Mother enjoyed life again – she laughed aloud!
Clinical studies in speech-language therapy have validated the approach I initiated fifteen years ago. Several indicated that, following conversation-based treatment, the conversations of persons with aphasias were more efficient, experiencing fewer trouble sources and shorter repair sequences. These findings suggest that measures of conversation for the rate of trouble source and length of the repair sequence are valid indices of improved conversation.
Yeah! Give conversation a chance – and reward first efforts enthusiastically!