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New program helps improve communication for patients with aphasia

June 05, 2018

Aphasia is a language disorder that affects a person’s ability to access, use and/or understand language. It results from damage to the areas of the brain that promote production or understanding of language through various modalities, such as speaking, listening, writing, reading, signing and gesturing. On a practical level, aphasia can make it difficult for a person to communicate in many ways. For example, a person may struggle to speak in complete sentences when telling a friend about their weekend, have trouble finding a specific word when ordering at a restaurant, have difficulty reading a friend’s Facebook status update, or be unable to write a text message to a family member.

At Craig, aphasia impacts a large majority of our patients with traumatic and non-traumatic brain injuries. “Until recently, former Craig patients with aphasia had to go out of state to have access to an intensive aphasia program,” says Kristen Mascareñas Wendling, Aphasia Program Coordinator at Craig. “The Craig Hospital Aphasia Therapy (CHAT) Program was created to provide an opportunity for patients to receive a novel and effective treatment in the western region. Currently, our program is one of two west of the Mississippi River.”

The CHAT program is an intensive outpatient program in which participants receive three hours of individual speech language therapy a day, five days a week, for three weeks, totaling an intensive 45 hours of 1:1 therapy. Additional therapy options are also available, such as group language therapy, if appropriate. This specialized, evidence-based program strives to improve the quality of life, independence and self-efficacy of persons living with aphasia through the use of diverse, patient-centered treatment approaches. And because the program clinician is bilingual, the CHAT program is able to serve both English and Spanish speakers.

Gains achieved through the program include improvements in standardized test scores and storytelling abilities as well as increased confidence and success when communicating with family and friends. Caregiver training is also included in the program to teach how to best support successful communication outside of the clinic. When reflecting on the CHAT Program, one family member said, “Though it’s still a slow process, I find myself amazed at how well she (my sister) can articulate her thoughts, given the opportunity. I am extremely grateful not only for your work with her, but for the education you provided myself and my family: it has allowed us to better understand how she operates, and made a huge impact on our general quality of life.”

The CHAT program will impact the lives of the individual living with aphasia as well as their family and friends. “It is incredible to see the impact of the CHAT Program on a person’s life," says Kristen. "Through the course of the 3-week program, I see the person with aphasia tap into a part of themselves that has been muted for some time. I see it in little ways, like increased eye contact or a smile when telling a story. I see it in big ways, like a person’s decreased dependence on a family member to speak for them or the ability to make a quick-witted comeback during a night out with friends. This program enhances the person’s life, not just their ability to access words.”

To learn more about the CHAT program, visit