Health Professions

Adult aphasia program provides opportunity to improve communication skills — and build community

Asphasia program participant works with graduate students

 

By Kate Hunger          

A sense of isolation can be a familiar feeling among people with aphasia, a condition that affects a person’s ability to communicate. Yet this summer, 28 people with aphasia and their family members came together for a program designed to strengthen their communication skills — and their sense of community.

Organized by the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and hosted on campus, the program helped people with aphasia who have been affected by stroke, traumatic brain injury or other neurological conditions, such as primary progressive aphasia.

Building a sense of community

People with aphasia have difficulty understanding or expressing themselves verbally, in writing — or both. The opportunity to practice communication skills among peers who are experiencing similar challenges made a difference to Brandon Macon, who had a stroke in January and was in the hospital for 75 days.

“For me it was really helpful,” Macon said. “I have been working really hard to talk again.”

His aunt, Valerie Harris, searched for resources for her nephew and discovered the summer program. She found the sense of community the program provided to be particularly valuable.

“I think the group is the thing that gives them more confidence,” she said. “They try to help each other and give tips.”

During the program’s three, two-week sessions, participants engaged with graduate students —and each other — during 40 hours of structured communication activities and games in both one-on-one and whole group settings. Family members gathered independently for sessions to help them improve their own communication skills with their loved ones.

Second-year speech-language pathology student Faith Ingracia said the program’s dynamic activities enabled her to quickly connect with the program participant she was paired with.

“I have loved every second of this,” she said.

Forging interprofessional connections

This was the program’s second year. New this year was an interprofessional (IPE) component during one of the sessions in which speech-language pathology students were joined by occupational therapy, physician assistant and pharmacy students. The IPE experience provided an opportunity for the students to learn more about each other’s professions and gave the OT, PA and pharmacy students a chance to discover how they can better communicate with people with aphasia. The interprofessional piece of the program earned a 2022 Linking Interprofessional Networks for Collaboration (LINC) seed grant.

Queenice Sin, a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy, was glad to learn strategies for communicating effectively as a future pharmacist who will serve people with aphasia.

“I do not want to rely on the caregiver to communicate effectively with the patient,” Sin said.

This year’s program was successful by all measures, said Assistant Professor and program leader Cathy Torrington Eaton, PhD, CCC-SLP.

“This year was even better than last,” Eaton said. “With improved organization and patient recruitment, we were able to accomplish all three of our goals: Our students significantly grew as clinicians, our patients and their family members gained confidence and newfound communication skills, and we fostered a supportive community and growing network of individuals with aphasia in San Antonio.” 

There are plans to eventually offer year-round aphasia programs for individuals living with post-stroke and primary progressive aphasia and their family members, as well as a more inclusive interprofessional training component, Eaton said.

“The city of San Antonio needs more support for individuals with aphasia; with time and resources, we intend to meet that need,” she said.

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