Aphasia can be life-changing, but supports available can make life easier

By Mary Dennehy

JUST over 12 months ago Tallaght taxi man David Hanlon suffered a stroke, which affected the father-of-two’s ability to speak.

However, a year down the line, the Aylesbury man is helping to support Aphasia Awareness Month locally – sharing his story at an event in Tallaght Library earlier this week. 

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Aphasia sufferer David Hanlon with his wife Barbara

While people are familiar with the term stroke, there is often little awareness that one in three people who have a stroke will experience aphasia – with around one in 250 people living with aphasia in Ireland.

According to Aine Lawlor, a senior speech and language therapist in the Tallaght Cross Primary Care Centre, aphasia is a communication disorder, which can vary from mild to severe – with some patients experiencing relatively good recoveries.

For others, it can be a severe, chronic condition impacting on work, social and family life.

Taxi man David was 59 when he suffered a stroke.

“I was very lucky”, David told The Echo.

“I have a weakness on the right side of my body, but experienced no serious mobility loss.

“However, I had no speech after the stroke.”

In the days after his stroke, David, who knows what he wants to say but can have difficulty finding the words, embarked on an intensive speech therapy programme at Tallaght University Hospital.

“The staff at Tallaght Hospital were amazing”, David told The Echo.

“When I look at where I am now compared to where I was, it’s amazing.

“It can be exhausting and frustrating at times but I have to keep going, it will get better.”

David also receives support from the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire and is a member of a free, supportive group that meets in the Rua Red Café once a month.

“My goal when I first joined the group was to be able to go to a coffee shop and order a coffee and a Danish, and I learned that,” David said.

“I would absolutely encourage people to go to the group – it’s great.”

Called CHAT (Communi-cation Hub for Aphasia in Tallaght) the group is facilitated by speech and language therapists from Dublin South West.

According to speech therapist Aine: “Speech-language therapy helps to improve a person’s ability to communicate by restoring language.

“It also teaches how to compensate for lost language skills and alternative methods of communications.

“Aphasia can be life-changing, but increased awareness of aphasia and supports available will make life easier.”

David’s wife of 35 years, Barbara, spoke with The Echo about the positive impact local supports have had on her family, especially the CHAT group in Rua Red.

“In the beginning, David wouldn’t go into a shop or anything, but now he flies in and out to do his lotto,” Barbara said.

“The group in Rua Red really helped David with that – it gave him confidence.”

“I would encourage families to take as much help as you can get.

“We have experienced a massive difference within a year.

“There are still challenges, but we know how to deal with them now because of all the support.”

CHAT meets in Rua Red, Tallaght, on the first Thursday of every month from 11am to 12pm, with summer dates including July 4, August 1 and September 5.

The staff in Rua Red are trained to support communication, and have been trained by people

with aphasia for people with aphasia or any communication difficulties.

Alongside reaching out to people with aphasia and their families, the awareness month also hopes to raise awareness of the condition among the general public.

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