June is National Aphasia Awareness Month

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a stroke. Nearly three-quarters of the individuals who have strokes are over the age of 65, and the effects can be devastating.

As the top cause of disability among Americans, strokes can leave behind a number of communication problems, including aphasia — which impairs speaking and language abilities.

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month. During the month, health educators get the word out about the disorder, its causes, symptoms and treatments. On Wednesday, June 7, at Mercy Retirement & Care Center, Ruby Jordan will present “The Human Voice & The Power of Humanity,” a special project on a technology that aims to help individuals with aphasia. Ruby, a 7th grader at Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, is the daughter of Rosemary Jordan, VP of Business Development and Strategy at Elder Care Alliance.

The technology, VocaliD, seeks to “crowdsource” a range of personalized, digital voices to replace the sterile, computerized voices that predominate in many of today’s applications.

Dr. Erin Partridge of Elder Care Alliance notes that she has worked with many children who need assistive communications tools and that it can be jarring to hear an “adult” computer voice used by a 7-year-old child.

“It’s really exciting to see how technology can be used to create more authentic and individualized communication options,” she said.

Aphasia and its Effects

Stroke is the leading cause of aphasia, but it is not the only cause. Infections, tumors, brain degeneration and severe brain injuries also can cause the condition.

The effects of aphasia can range from mild to severe enough that an individual cannot communicate at all. The condition can impact the ability to form words into sentences, to recall names for specific objects, or to read. In many cases, some channels of communication remain usable, leaving open the possibility of improvement with treatment.

Symptoms of aphasia include making statements that may not make sense, having trouble with writing or speaking, speaking words that don’t exist, and failing to understand other people’s words. Therapists work to assess the degree to which an individual with aphasia can communicate and design interventions to enhance the available abilities.

With the help of technologies like VocaliD, the prospects for individuals with aphasia continue to get brighter.

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