A Challenge for Life; Imagine Knowing What You Want to Say but Not Being Able to Communicate It. This Is a Daily Reality for People Who Suffer from Aphasia. SARAH SCOTT Meets Members of One North East Group Working to Support People with the Condition

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CHATTING to friends, writing a note, or reading the paper - we take these everyday activities for granted, coming second nature.

But for a small group, these seemingly simple acts present huge challenges.

Trying to form a sentence proves near impossible, and the act of typing on a computer does not come as naturally as it once did.

This is because these people suffer from aphasia, a condition brought on in many cases by stroke, but which can also be triggered by other brain traumas.

Aphasia can affect listening, speaking, reading, writing and how the brain deals with numbers. Some sufferers can have just one or a combination of their senses affected by the condition.

For Janet Speight, living with the condition means carrying a note with her at all times which states: "I have had a stroke and find it difficult to speak, read, or write. I usually understand what is said but please could you speak clearly. Thank you."

The 74-year-old is chair of the North East Trust for Aphasia (NETA), an independent charity which supports those living with aphasia and their families. She says living with aphasia can be frustrating, can make you angry and can also be isolating.

"Some people have strokes and do not have aphasia," said Janet, of Chapel Park in Newcastle.

"Some people have aphasia and it affects speech but not writing and some have both of those things "It's quite odd to see how it works.

My speech is not very good but I get through that and I think the thing I found very hard was when I got home and I had to send a letter to a friend on the computer and I opened it up and started and I just thought I cannot do that.

"I was very upset by that, my husband said just put your fingers on there, but I could not do that, I could not put the words together.

"It was very frustrating. "It's quite hard for people to talk for a long time and sometimes listening to people is quite hard," added the grandmother-of-one.

Janet has been living with aphasia since she was 61 and recalls the moment her life changed forever.

"I had a stroke following an operation in hospital as I had acoustic neuroma, a tiny tumour in the back of the ear nerve and it went very well, but two days after that things changed," she said.

"If it's growing it's not very good but mine was a small one and it should have been just that straightforward procedure.

"It was quite odd because I woke up in hospital on a trolley going somewhere and when it came to breakfast I did not know how to say porridge.

"I wanted porridge but people did not know what I was saying. That's when I realised something was wrong.

"My daughter came in very early before work and she tried to work out where I had been. While she was there the consultant said that I had had a stroke and I thought that was what it was all about, it was not until I talked to the speech therapist at home who really told me what aphasia was about and what happens for me.

"The doctor showed me what my brain looked like and you could see where all the blood had gone, and it was stopped or blocked."

About 130,000 people in Britain have a stroke each year, according to the Office of National Statistics, and it is generally accepted that a third of these are left with some form of aphasia.

The condition has a sudden and profound effect on the person, their family and friends, impacting on the individual's confidence, personal relationships, employment and social life.

"You have to live with it for the rest of your life but you can get better-ish, better than you were, better at living with it," said Janet, who helped found NETA 11 years ago following a research project at the aphasia clinic at Newcastle Univerisity.

Now the group meet once a week, every Thursday, and are based at the univeristy. …


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