Imagine not having the ability to easily understand or express speech? Not being able to easily communicate how you feel, what you want or what you need?
It’s what aphasia patients deal with on a day-to-day basis, says Brenda Rust, speech language pathologist and program clinician at Westman Aphasia Inc. in Brandon.
“It’s like you’re going into another country. You might have a little bit of french in your background from school and you’ve got the occasional word you might pick up on but people speak so quickly, conversation is fluid, so it’s hard to pick out the words if you don’t know the language,” said Rust, who is just one of the members of the community-based organization that helps address the needs of those in the area who are living with a chronic communication disorder.
Funded in large part by the Brandon and District United Way, a total of 38 folks currently receive direct services via programs offered by Westman Aphasia Inc. This includes 14 people who are diagnosed with aphasia along with 24 caregivers.
“Half of what we do is work with people who have aphasia, the other half of our time goes to caregivers because they’re the ones who are doing a lot of the work at home,” Rust said. “If they’re not healthy, our program members with aphasia are going to have a rough time too.”
The burden of communication, Rust says, lies in the hands of the people who are doing the conversing with those suffering from a communication disorder.
“The people we’re working with, this is chronic and it’s life long. In some cases, these people deteriorate depending on whether they have another stroke or they have a degenerative condition. So we train the people around those who are suffering to be able to understand them and be able to communicate with them better.”
Rust has received Supported Conversation for Adults with Aphasia training from the Aphasia Institute, and over the years she's been able to utilize those skills by training numerous members of the organization herself. The training, Rust says, involves a variety of methods – one of which includes a white board.
“The idea of the white board is you put down a yes and a no and a question mark so you have a way to ask the person yes or no questions. We try and figure out whether the individual with aphasia can understand that yes or no when it’s written down on the board or can they get a yes or no with a thumbs up or thumbs down.”
Another method is using key words, Rust says.
“These are people who can no longer read or write and it’s not because of a physical problem but because they just don’t understand the words. It’s language, it’s that central processor in the brain for language that’s no longer working the same.”
Along with hand gestures, pictures and drawings, it’s a process that isn’t easy to grasp – and it takes time to learn how to effectively become acquainted with the program.
“It’s something that looks really easy to do and it’s not. It takes a lot of practice and that’s what we do with our volunteers. We practice a lot with them and they become quite skilled in that area.”
Westman Aphasia Inc. was formally organized in 2008 and began rolling out its programs in 2009. All 2017 programs and workshops that are put on by the organization take place at Faith Fellowship Baptist Church.
Westman Aphasia Inc. is also having its annual AGM on March 23.
For more information on Westman Aphasia Inc. or to get involved as a volunteer, call 204-571-0802.