Sunday will mark the end of National Stroke Week in Australia – and Rachel Parsons has a message she wants to get out.
Rachel is a spokesperson for Maitland Aphasia Communication Group – a support group for those suffering the neurological disorder.
“Aphasia occurs when the part of the brain that controls speech has been damaged,” she said. “Stroke is the main cause associated with Aphasia, but it can also be a brain tumor, a car accident … whatever.”
She speaks slowly and carefully, her sentences occasionally punctuated by pauses as she mentally prepares for the next group of words.
The Maitland Aphasia Group began with four members in 2012 and now now has 30 members and growing.
“And we think there are plenty more out there who could benefit from joining us for our fortnightly meetings,” she said.
“We’re there to support anyone suffering from Aphasia.”
She said one of the main hurdles is that people suffering Aphasia are sometimes a touch embarrassed by their speech difficulties and are reluctant to come forward.
“It’s understandable, we all take our speech – our ability to communicate - for granted.
“When that’s suddenly taken from you, it can be really daunting, especially when you go out in public.”
For that reason she believes the Aphasia is vitally important – to help people improve their speech in a positive environment, surrounded by people who are going through the same thing.
“We raise money and pay for speech therapists to attend every second meeting, and in the other meetings we work on speech therapy ourselves. Most of all, it’s a supportive, fun environment.
“What we’re finding is that when people come along, they don’t tend to leave.”
Rachel’s message to people is that when you’ve lost your ability to speak fluently, all is not lost: it can improve.
“Absolutely it can,” she said. “Like everything, the more you work at it the better it gets.”
One of the people she wanted The Mercury to speak to was Kathryn Pettigrove, a speech pathologist involved in a national research program called Compare, working out of the La Trobe University in Melbourne. She was in Maitland this week.
“We work with people who have suffered Aphasia at least six months earlier,” Kathryn explained. “We offer three therapy treatments for eligible people and we’re comparing the results.
“We want to see what treatment works under the different circumstances, so we can prescribe the best treatment for individual cases in the future.”