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2012 Issue 2
SUPPORT GROUPS - Champions of Hope

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Casual Conversations: Building Comfort and Confidence with Fellow Survivors

A supportive environment for those struggling with aphasia

By Joan Christensen

As the men and women drift into a meeting room at HealthSouth, a Scottsdale, AZ Rehabilitation Hospital, conversation centers on the Super Bowl and plans for a desert walk scheduled the following week. Brad Tait picks up the dollar bill that Donna Robbins tosses across the table after clearly saying, “I owe you.” The result of a losing bet on last weekend’s football game.

The Aphasia Support Group has been meeting weekly at this facility for more than 12 years, providing social support for people with communication difficulties. For stroke survivors with aphasia—impaired speech as a result of damage to a portion of the brain following a stroke or disease—the group provides an opportunity to connect and talk in a non-judgmental environment.

Over the years the gatherings have grown beyond simply verbal skill practice. The group has formed a social network that includes outings such as movies, lunches, dinners, and maintaining social contact with fellow members outside of regular meetings. Caregivers are also part of the experience.

“The caregivers get together at the same time we do to share information and give each other support,” explains Lynn Sykes, stroke survivor and co-facilitator. “However, caregivers don’t attend our sessions because we found it keeps group members from speaking, since many stroke survivors look to family and friends to speak for them if they are nearby.”

“The group has also provided an invaluable social network for care providers,” explains Rita Ryan, mother of group member Wendi Ryan.

Speech therapist Jessica Sharp serves as the co-facilitator for the group and contributes conversation starters when needed—which isn’t often. This lively group seems to have plenty to talk about—from tips on how to shower safely, to a good movie recently seen or a favorite dessert at a nearby restaurant. Like social groups everywhere, the topics of conversation vary and spark smiles, agreement and sometimes light-hearted teasing and debate.

Everyone is encouraged to speak, regardless of the level of difficulty. Sometimes, writing or drawing is used to help illustrate a speaking point but all group members remain attentive, sensitive and patient when someone is struggling with a particular word or thought.

Self-pity has no place in the conversation. As one group member becomes frustrated mid-sentence, long-time member Genevieve Silva leans over and pats an arm reassuringly and says, “It’s sad but so what? We just pick up and keep going.”

And group member Debbie Hanrahan, who had her stroke one year ago, tries to stay motivated, explaining that “every day I try to think of the things I can do so I can get better.” Her speech is very clear; the rest of the group compliments her on how well she is doing.

Although support groups play a role in many rehabilitation programs, this group has something special. “They don’t just come to meetings for a sounding board session,” observes Melinda Theobald, community programs coordinator. “They have become like a family and genuinely care for each other.”

For more information about the Aphasia Support Group, contact Jessica Sharp 480-551-5481 or Jessica.sharp@healthsouth.com. HealthSouth Scottsdale is an acute rehabilitation hospital located at 9630 E. Shea Blvd. in Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information about other programs or services, visit www.healthsouthscottsdale.com.


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