It is a devastating and frightening disease that affects about a third of stroke survivors.
However, awareness of aphasia and its impact remains limited – even after the family of Hollywood legend Bruce Willis recently revealed that he is retiring from acting after being diagnosed with the condition.
Now, however, a woman from Dundee helps foster understanding after being told how she had to learn to read, write and speak again after a stroke — and while battling the same debilitating disorder that afflicted Willis.
Sheila Forbes, grandmother of six, was initially attacked in February 2020 and hospitalized. She also developed aphasia, which means her brain can no longer send the correct signals to the mouth. The disease makes verbal communication very difficult.
The mother-of-two said she didn’t know recovering from a stroke would have to learn to read, write and speak again. She spent two weeks at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, before being transferred to the stroke rehabilitation ward at the city’s Royal Victoria Hospital.
She also found a lifeline from support from the charity Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS), which included pairing her with a volunteer who helped her on her path to recovery. Ms Forbes said she is still adjusting to life but is now receiving support organized by Darlene Drummond, Director of Eastern Community Support Services at CHSS.
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Describing her experience, she said, “I didn’t feel well and felt very dizzy. I called the doctor and thought I was speaking normally, but the doctor couldn’t understand me and he knew something was wrong.
I could not speak properly, and could only recognize my sons. I didn’t know the words for anything, like bed or cup.
“The speech therapist gave me a piece of paper with little pictures so I could point and order a cup of tea.
“It really helped me start talking again. I have people calling me every day, like my son and niece, and Sharon calling me every week. I also have caregivers coming in.”
“Without the help of these people, I would have known nothing. I had no idea about all the different ways a stroke could affect people.
“At first I couldn’t even say Darlene’s name, but I’ve made great progress and that’s because of CHSS.
“Darlene introduced me to Sharon, the volunteer who calls me every week. She helps me learn how to do things again, like how numbers work and learns to tell time.
“I lost it all because of the stroke.”
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Jackie Slater, director of aphasia development at CHSS, said the charity’s work was vital, adding: “Every day we support stroke survivors in Scotland who are living with aphasia.
It affects about a third of stroke survivors and can affect your ability to speak, understand, read, write, and use numbers. It does not affect someone’s intelligence.
“It can be a very frightening and isolated situation and also very frustrating.
“People tell us that aphasia can affect every aspect of their lives, not just daily activities like talking to your friends and family, using the phone or public transportation, but also work, relationships and well-being.
“Many people have never heard of aphasia until it affects them or the lives of their loved ones.
“We want to make sure that people across Scotland are more aware of aphasia.”
She added, “By understanding what people with aphasia mean, we can improve awareness of the condition and help thousands of people with aphasia feel supported in their communities.”