The gift of communication after a stroke

Dr Sarah D'Souza

It is hard to imagine not being able to communicate, especially when it comes to your health. Dr Sarah D’Souza, a Senior Speech Pathologist at SCGH and deserving winner of our Early Explorer Grant, in partnership with Edith Cowan University, identified the everyday challenges of communicating with patients after a stroke.

Her research project titled ‘That’s my biggest fear...the poor person can’t communicate’, focuses on patients with aphasia, a communication impairment which affects a third of stroke survivors. Aphasia can limit a person’s ability to listen, talk, read, and write and often results in significant consequences for a person’s ability to access healthcare, engage with people, function independently and even return to work.

“Imagine not being able to talk to loved ones on the phone, order your favourite takeaway coffee, or request a library book,” said Dr D’Souza, “aphasia significantly affects nearly every part of a stroke survivors' life.”

With the help of the Early Explorer grant, Dr D’Souza aims to investigate if a Communication Enhanced Environment intervention in the early stages after a patient has a stroke, will help to promote aphasia recovery and patients’ abilities to communicate with health staff. But what does this mean? Dr D’Souza, along with her research team of ten aim to improve the hospital ward environment by providing aphasia patients and health staff with resources and equipment that assist in increasing the patient’s ability to communicate with staff, visitors and other patients whilst they undergo their stroke rehabilitation.

Part of the research team is Bruce Simcock, Vice-President of Aphasia WA, who is a ‘lived experience’ expert, living with aphasia. Bruce is a consumer advocate looking to build relationships with healthcare workers to provide education about aphasia and his role within the team is central to tailoring the intervention activities to meet the needs of people with aphasia.

“I’ve been living with aphasia since my brain bleed, caused by an aneurysm, on 27 May 2015.  After my stroke, I became so frustrated and bewildered at my limited ability to communicate, even though I knew in my brain exactly what I wanted to say, it was so difficult to be understood, which really impacted my quality of life and mental health” explained Bruce.  “As part of this project, I’m in the unique position of being both a person with aphasia and a researcher, so I’m so excited to be able to contribute to this research in such a meaningful way”.

Research commenced in April 2023, at Osborne Park Hospital Stoke Rehabilitation Unit. Dr D’Souza and her team continue to train hospital staff, providing them with resources to best support communication with patients with aphasia.

“Our study addresses national health literacy goals, healthcare access and reduces preventable adverse events as well as potentially improving aphasia and stroke recovery” said Dr D’Souza “we’re very excited as a team about the potential successes that will arise from this project and the positive impact on so many patients.”