Speaking up for aphasia

18 December 2018

Approximately 120,000 Australians suffer from aphasia, a chronic language and communication disorder which affects talking, understanding, reading and writing.

Aphasia occurs in around one third of all stroke survivors, and can also be caused by brain tumours or traumatic brain injury. Aphasia is often a lifelong disability associated with reduced quality of life and increased risk of depression and social isolation.

Professors Linda Worrall and David Copland have worked with UQ colleagues over the last 10 years developing and testing an aphasia-specific therapy program called LIFT (Language Impairment Functioning Therapy). LIFT cohorts undertake three days of therapy per week for eight weeks, focusing on individual goals and working on improving communication in a combination of individual sessions, group work and computer-based treatment.

Professor Worrall explained that LIFT culminates in a challenge day where participants complete a particular goal or task which they have struggled with for a long time, in front of their family and friends.

“Challenge day is an opportunity for participants to address a particular issue or goal that they identify with us on joining LIFT, and is a great way for them and their loved ones to come together with the rest of their cohort to see the progress everyone has made,” Professor Worrall said.

“Typically, people with aphasia commence the LIFT program between four and 18 months post-stroke and undertake group work, computer therapy and one-to-one sessions with a speech pathologist before tackling challenge day which has featured goals such as participants reading to their children and sharing stories with the group of their life before stroke.”

In June 2018, aphasia research at UQ was bolstered by an anonymous donation of $500,000 which will contribute to the establishment of Australia’s first dedicated aphasia rehabilitation and research centre, the Queensland Aphasia Rehabilitation Centre (QARC).

“The donation was a dream come true and not only will this dedicated centre allow us to facilitate the LIFT program year round, it will also provide a hub of support for aphasia patients and their families,” Professor Worrall said.

Operating in partnership with Metro North Hospital and Health Service, QARC will be based at the new $340 million Surgical, Treatment, and Rehabilitation Service (STARS) facility at UQ’s Herston campus.

Professor David Copland said QARC’s priorities and activities will be driven by the needs of people with aphasia, and developed in collaboration with aphasia patients and their families and clinicians.

“The aphasia centre will translate research discoveries and new treatments such as LIFT into clinical practice. Innovative approaches to be tested include new technologies such as advanced brain imaging, telerehabilitation, and smart phone applications to improve assessment and recovery in aphasia,” he said.

“QARC will be a unique space for people with aphasia to connect with each other and to gain support. This space will provide opportunities to try new approaches to therapy and to gain technical support for using computer-based treatments. We are thrilled to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop a service that transforms the lives of people with aphasia.”

Words: Jo Hickman