Most people don't know about aphasia. When I tell people that I had a stroke, they understand. I get sympathy. They tell me that I have recovered well. The conversation moves forward.
When I tell people I have aphasia, I get a blank look. You see, most people have never heard of the word. I admit that until I had aphasia, I had never heard of it either. It's funny that something associated with a single word can be so devastating. Up to 40% of stroke survivors have aphasia. If you are still symptomatic after three months, you will probably have it for life.
According to the National Aphasia Association, aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person’s ability to process language, but does not affect intelligence. Aphasia impairs the ability to speak and understand others, and most people with aphasia experience difficulty reading and writing.
Why is aphasia so hard to understand?
For me, I had a hard time wrapping my head around aphasia because it is different based on where your stroke occurred. Different placement of the injury means different symptoms.
I had Broca's aphasia. That deals with motor speech. I could comprehend what other people said and immediately formed answers in my head. Somewhere between knowing what I wanted to say-- and actually saying the words--they got stuck. If I could speak, it would be a different set of words. Simpler. Sometimes I couldn't speak at all. I also had trouble writing. I had no trouble reading, but I couldn't remember what I had read when I put the book down.
Wernicke's aphasia is sensory in nature. People with this type of aphasia can create speech themselves. They talk a blue streak. Unfortunately, no one can understand them. It sounds like gibberish.
I had four different speech therapists who did their best to get me speaking again. They did an excellent job, but I still had aphasia. I was two years post-stroke when I learned of laser therapy. Dr. Perih offers it in our area. When I asked him if laser therapy could work on me, he answered truthfully . . . he didn't know. He said I would be able to know in three to five sessions if I wanted to try it.
Why did I try the laser sessions if I didn't know they would work? You need to understand. I would try anything (that wouldn't harm me) if it had the chance to make me speak better.
The room was bright. I was greeted with a red exam table. Dr. Perih told me the therapy would last only a few minutes. I laid down and wondered what would happen. Would it really get rid of my aphasia?
The laser, about the size of a large smartphone, was held in place by a little portable grip. As he turned it on, Dr. Perih instructed me to do the cross crawl with my arms and legs. The cross crawl is done on your back with your arms at your sides. As the left leg is brought into the chest, the right arm swings from where it rests to over your head. Once the arm and leg are back on the table, the process is repeated on the other side. I felt a little odd about doing the cross crawl. Up. Down. Up. Down. After a few minutes, though, I was finished.
The cross crawl is an integral part of laser therapy because it stimulates nerve cells on both sides of the brain. This makes the treatment more effective. While the therapy would work without the cross crawl, recipients wouldn’t receive the maximum benefit. Even though I felt a little silly, I did the cross crawl every time because I wanted the maximum benefit.
The Type of Laser Matters
Dr. Perih uses Erchonia Corporation’s 635 Low Level Laser Light Therapy laser because this company has done its homework. Approved by the FDA, 635 nanometers heals and repairs the cellular structure of our bodies. Other manufactures have a variance of plus/minus three to six nanometers, which makes them less effective.
The Aphasia Got Better . . .
After that first treatment, I noticed a difference as I went about my day. A small difference, perhaps, but a meaningful change in that the words came a little easier and more in the way I intended.
I was the first stroke survivor Dr. Perih treated. My case was interesting because I’d been dealing with it for two years. It was a chronic problem by that point. My body had healed itself to the best of its ability. We gambled on whether the laser could help. It did. The problem was that I still had aphasia. I was better, but I still had aphasia.
Will anything make me talk normally again?
The answer is yes.
Please check out my next blog to find out how I finally addressed aphasia. Or, if you can't wait, Stroke Forward tells the whole story from my perspective and my caregivers' points of view.