Sunday, 31 October 2010

Reading to help recovery.

If you’re reading this, it’s a fair guess that you are a reader who actively seeks out things to read. You enjoy reading, you learn from your reading, you develop your world views through reading. But what would you do if you could no longer read? Perhaps you would listen instead. We are fortunate to have a wide variety of books now on CD - often beautifully read by actors, sometimes by the author. But what would you do if you now found it difficult to understand language - that the reading was too fast, or that you recognised words but couldn’t make sense of them?

People who have aphasia - also known as dysphasia - are in that position. Aphasia is an acquired language disorder associated with strokes. The degree of aphasia can be extremely variable, from very mild to so severe that it makes language utterly incomprehensible. Imagine yourself in a country where you know not one word of the language and no-one there knows one word of yours. You might mange a little basic communication through gesture and facial expression; you might manage to obtain a cup of coffee, a meal, a bed for the night, but would you be able to explain what you thought about life, what you believed in, could you tell someone your story? Could you correct them when they misunderstood you?

You would still have your thoughts, feelings, your knowledge of the world and your history but you wouldn’t be able to express them. You would still have a love for the written word, you just couldn’t access it. But as soon as you came home, you would once again understand the language around you.

So imagine if you were aphasic. This loss of communication would have a devastating effect on you. It wouldn’t automatically get better when you came home. You would still be you, but your difficulty in expressing opinions and decisions and following what someone else was saying, would sadly lead to some people no longer seeing you as a thinking, feeling person.

Even when verbal language is not too badly affected, aphasic people are often unable to read or write and this interaction with the written word is yet another loss, but perhaps if someone were to read to them it would help. As children we were read to - we could understand narratives that we could not have read for ourselves. It opened up our world, it gave reign to our imagination. It was stimulating, soothing. It was magic.

So perhaps for adults who have become dysphasic someone reading to them could do the same. If the reader read slowly, with plenty of expression and gesture, and if they read paragraphs, poems or short stories it could help rebuild their listener’s relationship to the written word. Hearing familiar passages can help foster confidence to understand something that once required no effort, but now requires more effort than climbing Everest.

Having a stroke is a frightening, bewildering event, no matter how kind and efficient the medical staff, however effective the treatment and therapy, and however supportive one’s family and friends. The relaxation through reading, which so many of us turn to in times of stress is denied. But for some people in this situation fortunately there are readers. The InterAct Reading Service is a charity that employs and trains actors to go into hospitals, day centres and clubs for those who have had stokes to read to people who cannot read for themselves. It brings their world alive and provides a valuable link from their familiar old life to a new frightening one. It stimulates and soothes. It enables them to once again to enjoy the written word. It helps them to get better. It is magic.

For more information please see

(For Annabel an InterAct reader)