Aphasia happens when a stroke damages the parts of the brain responsible for language. Losing the ability to communicate makes it difficult to maintain friendships, and families may find it hard to cope. But many stroke survivors with aphasia and their families don't get the support they need.
Katie Monnelly, at City University London, is a stroke researcher and speech and language therapist (SALT). She's using her experience to develop an aphasia treatment that includes family members and focuses on recovery of communication skills, life adaptations, and regaining independence. She tells us about her work:
What inspired you to go into research?
I've been a speech and language therapist since I qualified in 2010. I love clinical work but found I had questions about the aphasia therapy I provided, so decided to pursue a PhD to look for the answers.
What's your research about?
My research is on aphasia. People with aphasia know what they want to say but have difficulty saying the words. This can be incredibly frustrating for them and their loved ones.
I want to improve treatment for stroke survivors with aphasia. Intensive speech and language therapy has been shown to help, but most people in the UK do not receive this type of therapy after a stroke. I am exploring one approach called an Intensive Comprehensive Aphasia Programme (ICAP) to see what happens in the therapy, what the outcomes are for people with aphasia and their families, and whether it could be adapted for a mainstream UK NHS service.
How has being an SALT helped your research?
It's hugely beneficial as I can map what I read onto my clinical experiences, keeping real life people in mind when I'm studying. The lack of public awareness of aphasia is a major issue, so raising the profile of aphasia is an important aim.
How do you hope your research will help people?
I hope my research will be able to give a clear evaluation of the pros and cons of an ICAP to stroke survivors. I plan to involve stroke survivors in designing and testing an ICAP, so it's an exciting road ahead.
What advice would you give someone who wants to do something extra to progress their recovery?
- Practise - It is best to practise words or short phrases that are important and meaningful to you, rather than repeating names of generic pictures.
- Connect with others - A huge impact of aphasia is loss of friendships. This can affect your mental wellbeing. Find local stroke support groups or online aphasia groups. These are an opportunity to make new friends with aphasia who understand what you are experiencing.
- Keep going - It's not true that your recovery plateaus after a year. Evidence shows good quality and adequate amounts of speech and language therapy can produce improvements even years post stroke. There is hope.
- Ask for more therapy - You can request re-referral for NHS speech and language therapy, especially if there are specific goals you wish to work on. Each service will have different policies but it is worth exploring.
- Use digital tools - You can continue to work on your language with aphasia resources, such as mobile apps and computer software (free versions can be found on aphasiasoftwarefinder.org). The BBC has some good resources for English-learners that can be adapted here.
Find out more
Stroke News magazine
This article is featured in the spring 2023 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.