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Lost for words

Friday, 03 June 2016

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Imagine wanting to ask a family member how their day was but being unable to speak? Or wanting to buy lunch and struggling to be able to tell the waiter your order.

This is the reality facing the more than 100,000  Australians who suffer from Aphasia, a language disorder caused by damage to the brain.

Speech pathology and linguistics expert Professor Beth Armstrong will address the struggles these people face trying to live a normal life, and also the latest research aimed at restoring their ability to communicate, in the next free The West Australian ECU Professorial Lecture Series on 17 June 2016.

“The most common causes of Aphasia are strokes and traumatic brain injuries. More than 1000 Australians suffer a stroke each week and we know that about one third of them will go on to develop Aphasia, so it is a huge issue,” Professor Armstrong said.

“We use language in so many different ways that we take it for granted. From casual conversations with friends, to conducting a job interview, as well as the huge variety of ways we now use written words, texting, tweeting and emailing, language is all around us.

“Now imagine one day losing your ability to use language. Not only do you lose the ability to communicate with the people around you, but in many ways people can feel as though they have lost their identity.”

Early intervention key

Professor Armstrong said one of the most exciting advancements in the treatment of Aphasia was having patients start working with speech pathologists within just days of their stroke or injuries.

“The Very Early Rehabilitation in Speech – or VERSE –  project that we have been running at ECU is investigating the right timing for a patient to receive Aphasia therapy after a stroke or brain injury, ” Professor Armstrong said.

“Previous stroke research suggests the time immediately following a stroke is when the brain is best able to develop new circuits to achieve the best recovery, however, this is yet to be proven in aphasia recovery. VERSE will help to address this question.”

Missing voices

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke or traumatic brain injury that can lead to Aphasia.

Despite this, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians are often less likely to be diagnosed with Acquired Communication Disorder (ACD) and have less access to treatment and support services in the time after discharge from hospital.

ECU’s Missing Voices project, funded by a $630,000 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant, is aiming to change these facts.

“Communication is essential for a sense of identity as it allows people to engage and remain connected with their family, community, culture and history,” Professor Armstrong said.

“It is incredibly important to find out the prevalence of ACD in Aboriginal communities in order to look for new ways to improve rehabilitation services and to assist the person and their family in adjusting to life after stroke or a traumatic brain injury.

“It will also be important to find out ways in which Aboriginal communities are currently supporting people with ACD so that the broader population can learn from such practices.”

Visit The West Australian ECU Professorial Lecture Series website to register for the free public lecture.

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