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Newcastle University centre helps people find their voice

When Brian Reynolds had a stroke he recovered from many of the symptoms quite quickly.

Brian, 69, had the stroke five years ago during heart surgery. It left him unable to swallow and with temporary paralysis in his right arm and leg. But Brian, from Tynemouth, says the hardest thing about his recovery was learning how to speak again.
That’s where the Aphasia Centre at Newcastle University stepped in and helped Brian improve his communication.  Brian met the Duchess of Bedford to talk about his experiences when she renamed the centre, based at Newcastle University, on Tuesday, 22nd May. It became The Tavistock Aphasia Centre  (North East).
Aphasia is the impairment of language ability. It is caused by anything which can damage the brain, for example a stroke, head injury or surgery. It can cause difficulty in remembering words and leave people unable to speak, read or write. It is estimated that each year 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke.
Brian, who now volunteers at the centre, said: “It only took a few weeks before I could swallow again and the weakness in my arm and leg improved quite quickly. However, not being able to speak properly was incredibly difficult and by far the hardest part of my recovery. I would know exactly what I wanted to say but I would not be able to say the words.
“I was referred to the centre and it really helped me. I started volunteering there because I just wanted to say thank you for the help they had given me.”
The Duchess is a Trustee of the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia, which has supported the Centre . The trust was set up in memory of her husband Robin who suffered from aphasia following a brain haemorrhage.
The Duchess of Bedford said: “My sons and I are delighted that the North East Aphasia Clinic is being renamed the Tavistock Aphasia Centre, in memory of my husband Robin.
“When he founded the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia his hope was to help as many people with aphasia as possible to find the quality of help that he had received.  This was the first major project the TTA funded, and he loved it. He would have been so proud to see how it has evolved and he would have been very touched to have it renamed after him."
Another centre client, Lyndsey Manson from Benwell, was told by doctors she was lucky to survive a stroke she suffered when she was just 33. Now, with help from the centre, her speech is improving. She will also attend the renaming ceremony. She said: “The centre is helping me understand more and more.
“I used to love telling jokes and it was what I was known for. Now I can’t tell when someone has told me a joke. In my mind I know what I want to say but I can’t get the words out. It is really frustrating. But since I’ve been coming to the centre I am improving all the time. It has also been really good to meet people who are going through the same thing as me.”
The Aphasia Centre has been running since the 1999 and treats 20 people a year. Clients who come from as far away as Scotland and Yorkshire, are referred by the NHS and are given specialist, intensive one on one and group therapy by staff and University students. People are referred by their Speech and Language Therapist and the centre works closely with the NHS.
Dr Julie Morris is the Aphasia Centre Director. Julie said: “We take our communication for granted. Aphasia can affect communication in devastating ways. People with aphasia can have difficulties finding the words and putting sentences together, understanding what people say to them, reading a newspaper or writing even a simple note.This can have effects on every aspect of their life from relationships with family and friends, to their jobs and roles.
“At the centre we work together with people with aphasia to help them understand their aphasia and to improve their communication. We don’t just work on speech but on all aspects of communication. We use techniques similar to those used by Speech and Language Therapists elsewhere but are able to offer an intensity of therapy.
“The support given by the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia has been pivotal in helping the Aphasia Centre to succeed over time and we are delighted the Duchess has come to rename our centre. For the clients we work with it will be really great to meet someone who understands aphasia and has first-hand experience of it.”
Notes to editors
· The Aphasia Centre is situated within Speech and Language Sciences at Newcastle University and provides training opportunities for Speech & Language Therapy students at the University. Staff working in the Aphasia Centre are actively engaged in research into aphasia and aphasia therapy. The centre works very closely with NHS speech and language therapists who refer their patients to them for intensive therapy. The centre was initially set up as research project looking at the benefit of intensive therapy but proved so effective it has now been running for the past 13 years.

published on: 23 May 2012