‘Coffee Chat’ an engaging program for those living with aphasia

Socialization and communication are building blocks to society, necessary for people to connect with one another.

Socialization and communication are building blocks to society, necessary for people to connect with one another. For those living with aphasia, these skills are stolen and the results can be devastating.

Luckily, those with aphasia in Central Alberta do not have to suffer alone, thanks to Coffee Chat. Coffee Chat is a program for those who are living with aphasia – an acquired language disorder that typically affects people who have suffered brain damage.

“Coffee Chat was developed to be a program for people who have suffered a stroke and who now have aphasia to be able to participate in an active communication group where they get the confidence, ability, and support to be able to actually converse,” said speech language pathologist and program facilitator Karrie Paige.

Aphasia can take several forms, and is most commonly caused by strokes. A person living with this condition would have symptoms ranging from difficulty remembering words to the loss of the ability to speak, read and write.

It does not impact intelligence, only language skills.

The group is an unstructured socialization program that can be accessed by speaking to local speech pathologists and PCN doctors. It is designed to be a comfortable place for people who may struggle with conversation to work through topics of their interest and to engage with others who also have aphasia.

“Before people have a stroke, socialization is an essence of what we do – speaking. We go for talking, we go for drinks, and we talk. At the end of the night, sometimes we don’t even know what we talked about but we were socializing and engaging with other people. Having aphasia means that that part of being human is stolen from you. Their voice is stolen in that they often have so much they want to say, but their brain is holding it hostage and they just aren’t able to get the words out,” Paige said.

“A lot of our clients who have aphasia become socially isolated and are afraid to talk because often when they try the words don’t come out right, or they find that they can’t participate in the kinds of coffee groups, or beers with the friends or whatever.”

Paige’s role as a facilitator and speech pathologist is to help the clients understand and follow conversation, and then in turn provide assistance in participation. Some of the tools she uses to help people communicate are boards with various answers and phrases on them and even iPad programs.

“We know that people with strokes need more opportunities to communicate and use their skills. Unfortunately, there aren’t many opportunities in the community. A lot of people don’t even know what aphasia is or how to work with someone who has it,” Paige said.

“We’re doing training all the time to teach what’s called supportive conversation for people with aphasia. It teaches people how to interact with people affected by aphasia so that the person affected can understand what is being said to them and so that they have a way to respond.”

Paige said there are similar programs across the country that aim to educate and rehabilitate those living with aphasia and the people in their lives. The programs are monitored by speech pathologists so they can help people understand how to interact with a person living with aphasia, and to help those affected to take their turn in conversation.

kmendonsa@lacombeexpress.com