Patients Find Their Voices; PATIENTS with the Language Disorder Aphasia Are Being Helped through Art. Health Reporter HELEN RAE Explains

Article excerpt

Byline: HELEN RAE

USING art to express emotions is nothing new, but if it''s the only way you have of communicating because you''ve lost the power of speech, then creating a 'work of art' takes on a whole different meaning.

Aphasia is one of the most frustrating aspects of life after a stroke for both patients and their loved ones as it affects all forms of communication using words.

Some people with aphasia lose speech completely for many months or even years, while others have that 'tip of the tongue feeling' even for everyday words and phrases.

However, a partnership approach between speech and language experts, North Tyneside Adult Learning Alliance, Newcastle University''s fine art students and the Stroke Association has shown that art can prove a valuable form of expression when words literally fail.

In just eight weeks the 16 artists - some new to art and others revisiting old skills - produced an exhibition of original and reworked pieces ranging from portraits to abstracts, forming new friendships and building confidence in the process.

This is a major achievement for those involved, especially as many of the artists have to overcome physical difficulties just to lift a pencil.

One of the artists and a former carpenter, Peter Mulholland, can only see half of the visual field due to hemianopia after a stroke 12 years ago.

His first pencil drawing was the one side of his face he could see and it took several weeks for him to fill in the 'hidden half' to complete the picture using a mirror and his left hand.

"All the works are ways of expressing their determination to play a full part in life despite their aphasia," said Dr Rose Hilton, speech and language therapist at Newcastle University, who runs North East Trust for Aphasia (NETA). "Although many people with aphasia also have physical problems from the stroke - often including the use of their right hand - skilled introduction of art as a tool for self expression can provide release and open new avenues of communication.

"This all contributes to rebuilding self confidence - a vital part of the long rehabilitation process for the whole family after a stroke or brain injury."

There are two art groups for people with aphasia on Tyneside, which came together for this project.

One is run by the Communication Hub for Aphasia in North Tyneside (CHANT), funded by North Tyneside Local Authority, which works with The Stroke Association as well as NHS speech and language therapists.

The other operates through NETA, an independent registered charity that provides support through the Aphasia Centre at Newcastle University. …