St. Anthony Hospital helps patients communicate

| 21 Jun 2012 | 02:18

WARWICK, N.Y. — Many people have never heard of aphasia, but more than 1 million people in the United States know that the communication disorder can cause a sudden and devastating change to every aspect of life.

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, and the Department of Speech Pathology at St. Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick, N.Y., wants the community it serves to know that help is available for aphasia.

Aphasia, which hampers a person’s ability to process language, is commonly caused by stroke. Aphasia simply impairs one’s ability to speak and understand others. While their intelligence isn’t impaired, most people with aphasia also experience difficulty reading and writing.

In addition to stroke, aphasia can also result from head injury, a brain tumor, head and neck cancer, developmental disorders and other neurological causes. There is no cure, but speech-language therapy such as that offered at St. Anthony Community Hospital can dramatically improve a patient’s ability to communicate and maintain a meaningful life.

Sadly, insurance benefits for patients with aphasia are not unlimited. Insurance usually runs out before treatment like melodic intonation therapy, which requires an extraordinary amount of time, can be completed.

"After a course of traditional speech therapy," said St. Anthony speech pathologist Loretta Lenihan, "I am sometimes required to discharge my patients. Often, they have not recovered full communication skills, and I feel that I am sending them off without sufficient communicative function."

The good news, she said, is that when traditional therapies don’t yield enough "functional communication output," electronic speech-generating devices, such as those made by a company called Lingraphica, can be the answer. In addition to helping the patient communicate, they can also be used to continue speech therapy at home.

"With these devices, I can program customized phrases and other communication," Lenihan said. "The patient will use the device long after therapy has ceased. I feel much better knowing that they have a form of communication for the long haul – and that I am helping to improve my patients’ quality of life."

John Duffy, for example, an outpatient at the St. Anthony Department of Speech Pathology, has aphasia as a result of a head injury from an automobile accident. He has his own speech-generating laptop.

Duffy, who is usually in the company of his wife, Kathy, who can speak for him, will primarily use his computer at home, where he can also use a special program to continue his therapy.

Another outpatient, Elizabeth Mangham, who suffered a stroke, is just beginning her trial with a small speech-generating device she can carry in her purse. Duffy and Mangham simply touch an icon on a screen to answer simple questions out loud, such as their address, phone number and other common phrases they are unable to verbalize (even though they know exactly what they want to say).

At St. Anthony Community Hospital, speech pathology clients are evaluated and treated by a highly trained speech-language pathologist. Depending on a person’s need, they can get treatment in individual or group sessions.

The challenge of ensuring that patients have the support they need is also more achievable with the help of Liz Daly, a speech department volunteer. Often patients need access to organizations such as their local dial-a–bus, office for the aging and the Association for the Visually Impaired. Daly helps patients during therapy and after discharge.

Aphasia patients require long-term support. Lenihan is interested in hearing from area residents with aphasia interested in forming a support group.

For more information, call Lenihan at St. Anthony Community Hospital, 845-987-5502.