Viewpoint: tackling the communication challenge for stroke patients is vital

Stroke survivor, GP and Durham Dales Locality clinical commissioning chair Dr Satinder Sanghera explains why improving services for stroke survivors is vital and looks at how it can be done.

Stroke: survivors often face communication challenges (photo: SPL)
Stroke: survivors often face communication challenges (photo: SPL)

Aphasia, a language disorder caused by neurological damage, affects one third of stroke survivors - around 33,000 adults per year in the UK. The severity varies, and it can affect reading, writing, speaking and understanding.

Aphasia

Aphasia is, and continues, to be a condition that too few professionals and the wider public know about, and even fewer understand. As the newly formed clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) begin to review community services, it is useful for them to know and understand the importance of encouraging development of their local specialist communication support services.

I had a stroke 27 years ago, aged 20, and initially had aphasia. I do still struggle with words when I’m tired and can appreciate how frustrating it must be to have ongoing communication difficulties and to experience a lack of understanding within the community.

As a GP, I come across patients who struggle with their aphasia and have very low confidence. Some become isolated, too scared to leave their homes to access local services. They should be supported to live with their aphasia and enabled to make the best possible recovery.

Research commissioned by the Stroke Association and carried out by the University of Sheffield examines different methods of communicating with stroke survivors with communication difficulties. It is hoped that the results will enable more accessible materials to be produced.

Research

The research reveals that aphasia-friendly materials are most effective when they are developed according to an individual’s needs, as there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach which works. It is vital for people with aphasia to feel that they their needs are understood and addressed if they are to overcome their fears and feel part of their communities.

A concise set of guidelines for preparing easily adapted, tailored materials for people with aphasia has been developed as a result. Click here to view the guidance.

Peer support in overcoming isolation is shown to improve outcomes. In Durham, we have an ‘Aphasia Expert Patient Service’, which involves training stroke survivors with aphasia to develop the skills of other individuals with communication support needs.

The service, delivered by the Stroke Association, has already helped lots of people improve their confidence, skills, and to access information, advice and support in the community. The service won an award for delivering personalisation in the community from Durham County Council. It is fantastic recognition for the excellent partnership stroke care in in the North East.

The Stroke Association provides support and training for professionals on how best to support stroke survivors with aphasia. For more information please visit www.stroke.org.uk/training or call 01527 903 911.

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