Barkley Clinic launches Aphasia Community Partners program

Barkley Clinic launches Aphasia Community Partners program

04 Apr 2017    By Kelcey Buck

A new program aiming to help people with aphasia remain socially active is underway through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic. The Aphasia Community Partners program, which officially launched this semester, pairs a person with aphasia with a volunteer who takes the individual out to engage in community activities.

Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder of understanding and using symbols, most evident in difficulty using or understanding language. It is caused by damage to the brain, most commonly from a stroke. Brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries and progressive neurological disorders may also cause aphasia. The National Aphasia Association estimates that about two million Americans are affected by aphasia, and nearly 180,000 individuals in the United States acquire the disorder each year. 

Kristy Weissling, associate professor of practice and coordinator of the speech and language services within the Barkley Clinic, said the goal of the Aphasia Community Partners program is to get the individuals with aphasia participating in activities across Lincoln.

“There’s a very high unemployment rate in individuals with aphasia,” Weissling said. “Generally, people become, over time, more and more socially isolated. That’s why this program is so important because it keeps getting them out there, and helps them get reconnected and making friendships. My dream is that we help people stay connected.”

Certified speech-language pathologists from the Barkley Clinic train the volunteers in communication strategies to use with individuals with aphasia. The speech-language pathologists then attend the initial meeting between the volunteer and the person with aphasia, and are available to assist throughout the program. Volunteers also receive stipends to help offset the costs of the activities.

“It’s kind of a different approach to aphasia,” Weissling said. “There are centers all over the country, where individuals with aphasia go to the center and are offered programming there. As I thought about that, I didn’t think that was feasible in rural communities, and I’m always thinking about how we transfer what we’re doing here outside of the university setting.”

As the Aphasia Community Partners program has gotten underway, the participants have been clients at the Barkley Clinic. Weissling is hopeful that, in time, it will include more people across Lincoln and the surrounding area. Ultimately, her goal is to collect data on the program, before expanding it to other communities across Nebraska.

“I believe there are lots of great resources in communities across the state, and that each individual community will have its own solution for how to help people with communication problems. What they need is help realizing that the problem is there and a connection to someone who can help.”

To support the volunteer stipends for the Aphasia Community Partners program, Nebraska speech-language pathology graduate students host an Aphasia Awareness Walk each June. The third annual event is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, June 17. Click here to learn more and register online.

Click here to learn more about the Aphasia Community Partners program and how you can help. 

Special Education and Communication Disorders