Lost for words - treating the aftermath of a stroke

Published 15 March 2021
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A Southern Cross University lecturer is breaking new ground in dealing with the little known condition called aphasia or the inability to communicate with speech.

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Dr Kirstine Shrubsole – Speech Pathology lecturer

Aphasia is a neurological disorder caused by damage to the portion of the brain that is responsible for language and commonly affects 30 percent of stroke victims.

It’s something Dr Kirstine Shrubsole was faced with on a daily basis during her 10 years as a speech pathologist, seeing great improvements in some patients while others remained stuck, some indefinitely.

“When you work in a hospital there are guidelines that tell us what we should be doing and when based on the research, but when I was working in the hospitals myself we often couldn’t implement them,” Dr Shrubsole says.

“There were so many barriers. We often didn’t have enough staff, or time, or resources. Sometimes it was skills; we didn’t have the training to deliver a certain type of therapy.”

She went on to complete a PhD, researching aphasia and more specifically, the implementation of clinical guidelines and effective behaviour change techniques  in order to improve speech pathology practice and aphasia treatment within the hospital system.

Now Dr Shrubsole is passing on what she’s learned to Southern Cross University students, helping them understanding the latest research and evidence so they graduate well prepared.

Sarah Eenjes, a  final-year speech pathology student,  recently attended an Aphasia Camp on the Gold Coast, organised by the Australian Aphasia Association, to gain first-hand experience from patients working to improve their ability to communicate.

Hi Emma I'm Sarah. Hi Emma oh god um hi Sarah my name is Emma. Aphasia is most commonly due to stroke and it can affect about a third of people who have stroke. It can also be due to some other things like some brain changes so it could be a car accident or a brain tumour or something. So that's why we have this aphasia camp running at the moment. So we have one of our students here at the moment Sarah and she has volunteered her time to come and learn for herself what it's like to work with people with aphasia. So Emma can you tell me a bit about your background and how your aphasia began?
I was a judicial associate to a judge and then I had my stroke at 33 years old and I developed aphasia. I didn't know what to say I didn't talk like I only had three words yes no and sorry and yes and no were sometimes jumbled up like yes yes yes no no sorry no! You like, you knew what you wanted to.. I knew what I wanted to say but I can't say it yeah. So what we know is that the standards for speech pathology services for aphasia they aren't being met consistently and there are quite a number of gaps so yes there's the main gap is looking at the amount of therapy that people get. Can you tell me about aphasia camp and what your goals were coming into this camp? just meeting um someone who's not alone like

yeah people who are exactly like me yeah that's really what I take out of it. It's one of my passions being able to help those with aphasia as not many people know about aphasia. Being at Southern Cross has given me opportunities that other unis may not have provided like this, small classes and knowing your teachers by name and I've always just loved working with people with aphasia that's been I guess the population that I've found most challenging in some ways but also most rewarding. So your five-year anniversary for your post-stroke is coming up what were you going to do on that day? My goal would be to climb the harbour bridge again so I've done it before when I was 19 and now I've got to do it again something to look forward to yes.

“It's one of my passions, being able to help those with aphasia as not many people know about aphasia and the camp was invaluable learning experience,” says Sarah.

“Being at Southern Cross has given me opportunities that other universities may not have provided, like the small classes and knowing your teachers by name, just that really close group of people that we've got and being able to share our resources between each other.”

Dr Shrubsole’s goal is to improve the care  delivered to stroke patients across Australia so that no matter which hospital they attend, they receive the same high-quality care based on the latest evidence.

She explains it’s a matter of approaching things from the top down and bottom up simultaneously.

“All of my research is based on trying to improve how the latest evidence is translated into practice. It’s called closing the evidence/practice gap,” said Dr Shrubsole.

You can find out more about Dr Kirstine Shrubsole’s research work here.

Media contact: Charles Wood 0407 794 744 scumedia@scu.edu.au