Aphasia, “the silent disability”, affects thousands of New Zealanders every year, leaving them unable to speak. Funding from the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia in the UK is giving hope to people with aphasia and encouraging students to pursue careers in speech language therapy through the University of Auckland.
The Tavistock Trust for Aphasia was founded in 1992 as a “living legacy” to the late Robin Tavistock, the 14th Duke of Bedford. A stroke in 1988 left him unable to access language. With support from family and friends and intensive speech therapy he slowly began to recover but continued to experience difficulty in finding the words he wanted to use.
In Auckland, the Trust supports a community outreach programme called the CBR Gavel Club, which is an affiliate of Toastmasters International. Like the Trust’s founder and benefactor, members of the CBR Gavel Club all have aphasia and live each day struggling to find words.
“Members typically arrive at their first meeting with huge fears and self doubt,” says speech language therapist Celia Moore. “The most powerful and inspirational feature of the club is the group’s mutual support and respect. Members boost each other’s self-confidence and propel each other to a new speaking level.”
The Auckland club has been running for two years through a collaboration between the University’s Speech Science Department, its Centre for Brain Research (CBR), Master of Speech Language Therapy Practice students, the local AM Toastmasters club, a Toastmasters mentor, and a volunteer speech language therapist. Members’ quality of communication before and after participating in the CBR Gavel Club is measured using a scale devised by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. This data has shown positive results.
“Put simply, research shows that if we want to improve our talking skills, we need to talk,” says the Director of Speech Science, Professor Suzanne Purdy, who has a 30-year research career spanning psychology, audiology and speech science.
The Speech Science Department sits within the School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science and recently celebrated its tenth birthday. It is the fastest growing speech science programme in New Zealand, with an increasing number of postgraduate students. For the past five years an annual Tavistock Trust for Aphasia Award has been presented to one University of Auckland Master of Speech Language Therapy Practice graduate who has completed an outstanding piece of work in the field of aphasia.
Last year’s winner, Marie Ualesi, says she feels very humbled and honoured to have received an award at such a level. “I had no idea that my supervisor, Dr Elaine Ballard, and co-supervisor, Dr Clare McCann, had nominated me.”
Marie’s research was titled “Stroke and aphasia awareness in the New Zealand Samoan community: caregiver and family perspectives”. She has since presented it at the Growing Pacific Solutions 2014 Conference. Marie is working as a Speech Language Therapist for Home Health Care at Counties Manukau Health, working with adults and older people who have communication or swallowing difficulties.
“After completing my research work and joining the workforce, I often reflect on my work practice, how I communicate and offer information, provide intervention and gain the best outcomes for clients, families and caregivers,” she says.
“Robin’s hope was that everyone who has aphasia would be able to receive the kind of help he had received. By supporting community programmes like the CBR Gavel Club and encouraging the Speech Science health professionals of tomorrow, the Trust can enable so many more people to be understood” Henrietta, Duchess of Bedford