As someone who had difficulties speaking when I was little, I have great sympathy for those living with Aphasia. I remember being incredibly embarrassed when I couldn’t pronounce certain words, so much so that I learned to avoid them completely so I would not be teased, particularly by my siblings. I even went to speech therapy for a few years for I could get better. However, my issue was very minor and was quickly solved. Even if I had never gotten the problem fixed, I could have easily gone about my life without much difficultly and almost no one could have noticed. Unfortunately, people with Aphasia don’t have that luxury and I feel especially bad for them, knowing that their problem with language is a million times worse than mine.
Aphasia is when someone’s language capability is impaired. It can affect how a person produces and/or understands speech and written language processes, such as reading and writing. According to the National Aphasia Association website, Aphasia is always caused by injury. Normally it is the result of a stroke, but can happen because of a head trauma, brain tumor, or an infection. The severity of it can also vary greatly. It usually affects the older population, but it can happen to anyone. Currently, it affects about two million people. Unlike my quick fix to my pronunciation problems, if a person experiences the symptoms of aphasia for more than two months, a full recovery is rare. Luckily, they likely will continue to see improvement in their abilities over the following years as the person affected and their loved ones learn more about Aphasia and as they figure out how to adapt to new, adjusted communication strategies.
Ulmer, Hux, Brown, Nelms, and Reeder (PAYNET: https://www-tandfonline-com.umw.idm.oclc.org/doi/full/10.1080/02687038.2016.1274872?scroll=top&needAccess=true) did a study on a way to help people with Aphasia communicate. They wanted to see how the performance of people with Aphasia in a communication test varied with the aid of taking photographs. The study was a multiple case study design. It included five people diagnosed with Aphasia, who observed the researchers perform wellness activities. While observing, they took as many photographs as they wanted of the people completing the activities. After that, those with Aphasia talked with other people about the activities and were allowed to look at the photographs they had taken. Everyone varied in the number of photographs that they took, the amount of times they referenced to the pictures during the conversation, and their amount of success in communicating information to a person unfamiliar with what activities had taken placed. The researchers found that those who referenced the pictures they took were more successful in communicating more information to the other person and were more specific than those who did not reference the photographs at all or referenced it fewer times. They also talked more about the correct topic than other topics that were unrelated and made less disability-related comments. Basically, the researchers concluded that taking photographs and using them as references allows people with Aphasia to increase their ability to stay on the right topic and allows them to be more specific about the content they wish to mention. They ended their article with the note that more research is needed in order to fully understand how referencing to pictures supports communication strategies and to determine whether or not direct training about photography should be given to those with Aphasia.
Their research was really interesting to read about because it gave me a very good example of exactly what strategies people with Aphasia can use in order to help build their ability to communicate with others. Before reading this, I had a really hard time coming up with effective ways they could increase their capabilities, considering they can have difficultly speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. I was confused of why they didn’t just write and read everything, but that was more because I did not know what exactly Aphasia was and how it could affect the people who had it. But now, I understand that Aphasia is more complicated than just not being able to speak clearly and efficiently, which makes me feel even more sympathy for those who have it. I wonder how the results from the multiple case study would differ if they used photographs from a long time ago to discuss a that happened awhile ago, or if they would be the same for events that happened recently. Because that would help determine if talking about short-term memories is different from talking about long-term memories. I personally think it would depend on where the damage in the brain was at. I also wonder if having the photograph allows them to direct some attention on the photograph, rather than worrying about speaking correctly. And maybe that redirected stress allows them to feel better about speaking and therefore speak more clearly and about the right thing. It also makes me question that if feeling more prepared, and being a little less focused on what they are saying by concentrating on something else, is the reason behind understanding language better, could emotional support animals help them improve their abilities?
Because I had so many questions after reading the study done by Ulmer and his associations, as well as the National Aphasia Association website, I wanted to read something written by someone who had a more personal connection to Aphasia. In my search, I found a blog titled “Blue Banana”, written by a man named Matt, whose wife has Aphasia as the result of a brain bleed caused by a stroke. I am not 100% sure why he called his blog the Blue Banana, but I do know it is because of the following quote “Oranges are pink, bananas are blue. My memory discharged, so now 4 + 3 = 2”. What I don’t know is if his wife or someone else with Aphasia said that, or if someone trying to show what Aphasia is like to someone who did not know was the one who said it. But despite the odd title, his blog was wonderful and very insightful. He talked about the days leading up to his wife’s stroke, how it felt while his wife was having the stroke, and the healing process of it all. It was very detailed and emotional to read. For me, it made Aphasia real, and not just something you read about in a cognitive psychology textbook.