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Stroke Smart Magazine

May/June 2007

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Enjoy Books Again

By Lynn Bronikowski

Book clubs and computer technology are springing up as the newest tools to help stroke survivors with aphasia enjoy reading again. Aphasia is the partial or total loss of ability to talk, understand what people say, read or write.

At the Aphasia Center of California, the formation of Oprah's Book Club in 1998 inspired the creation of its own reading club. The Book Connection™ develops materials and adapts popular books to accommodate the communication challenges associated with aphasia.

“Not being able to enjoy reading is one of the major losses those with aphasia experience,” said Roberta Elman, who co-founded The Book Connection™ with Ellen Bernstein-Ellis in 1999. “But we've been able to adapt books to make them accessible. People love being able to read popular books.”

Elman and Bernstein-Ellis wrote a manual for book-club facilitators and created supplemental materials to go along with it. These materials combine audio tapes with worksheets to go along with 17 popular titles. For a fee, books can be downloaded at http://www.thebookconnection.org/. The price per book varies from $90 to $240, depending on how long and complex the book is.

For Martha Lynch, who retired from teaching after her stroke in 2001, the book club has helped sharpen her retention skills.

“The discussions are fantastic, rich and full of life,” said Lynch. “And I learned from my fellow stroke survivors. Every person in the book club struggles with some aspect of language. Through this class, [everyone] improves.”

The program was so successful in Oakland that it has been replicated at the Aphasia Institute in Toronto, MossRehab in Philadelphia, Montclair University in New Jersey and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).

“Without something like a book club, many of these people would never be able to get back to reading for enjoyment again,” said Leora Cherney, director of the RIC Center for Aphasia Research.

RIC also has been testing computer-based programs that help stroke survivors practice their language skills. They can practice when they want and as much as they want using technology called Oral Reading for Language in Aphasia with Virtual Therapist (ORLA VT).

ORLA VT was developed to improve reading comprehension by providing practice in listening to sentences and reading them aloud.

“Research has shown that the intensity of the therapy is crucial,” said Cherney. “The more intensive, the better. Computer programs are proving to be a valuable tool that allows stroke survivors to have a sense of being in control of their therapy. ORLA VT's repetitive nature allows them to be relatively independent.”

This fall, RIC and The Center for Spoken Language Research at the University of Colorado in Boulder will be testing a more sophisticated version of ORLA VT. Facial expressions will be added to the virtual therapist's image on the computer screen, and the technology will be available via the Internet.

“People with aphasia can read aloud with the program,” said Cherney. “It's so simple, the person with aphasia or a trained caregiver could work with it.”


The Aphasia Center of California's Book Connection in Oakland
http://www.thebookconnection.org/.  Phone: 510-336-0112

Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Center for Aphasia Research
http://www.ric.org/ and click on “Research” on the home page. Phone: 312-238-6163.  Information on participating in Internet-based virtual therapist research programs starting this fall is available on the web site.

The Center for Spoken Language Research at the University of Colorado in Boulder
http://cslr.colorado.edu/.  Click on “Research” on the home page for information on virtual speech therapy.

National Aphasia Association
http://www.aphasia.org/. Phone:  800-922-4622

Aphasia Hope Foundation
http://www.aphasiahope.org/. Phone:  866-449-5804

Aphasia Institute, Toronto


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