Support Group: Living with Aphasia

Aphasia can happen suddenly when a stroke or head injury damages the left side of the brain, the part responsible for language. Or it can come on slowly, as in the case of a brain tumor.

Not only does it affect the way you talk, but how you understand words. Still, you need to figure out a way to communicate with the rest of the world.

Jerry Schaaf isn't just fighting brain cancer. Every time he opens his mouth, it's usually a struggle to get people to listen.

He describes, "They'll cut you off, and that's very frustrating because I wasn't done speaking."

These people understand completely. They meet once a month to share some of their frustrations in this aphasia support group.

The husband of one woman who struggles with aphasia says, "They think because she's had a stroke that she is mentally deficient."

A therapist responds, "That's the big thing. It doesn't affect your intelligence at all, just your thought processes."

And an augmentative communication device helps patients read.

"I read the newspaper everyday. It's hard, but [it gets] easier everyday," says one woman.

Everyday it does get easier. Just ask John Bennett who had a stroke three years ago. This Easter, he performed in a church play and delivered a lengthy monologue.

Bennett says, "If people see me do something, see Jerry do something, see everybody in this room do something, that's inspirational for them. [People will think] you don't have to put them on the back-burner."

They may feel like they're on the back-burner in the outside world, but not in here.

"These people taught me one thing; they just never quit," concludes Schaaf.

And the best part is, Schaaf can talk to them without being interrupted.

The aphasia support group meets every fourth Wednesday at St. Mary's Rehab Institute Outpatient Services. That's located at Washington Square Mall. You don't have to talk until you're ready. You can just go and listen.

For more information, call Carla Ellison at the St. Mary's Rehabilitation Institute at (812) 485-5607 or (812) 485-5667.