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Stroke survivors frequently struggle to communicate with their GPs

Aphasia blights ability to make appointments and be understood, says charity

Caroline White

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Around one in three stroke survivors with the language disorder, aphasia, struggle to communicate properly with their GP, indicates a survey by the Stroke Association.

They struggle to make appointments and to understand and be understood by their GP, the survey of 822 stroke survivors, found.

Aphasia can affect speech, the ability to understand what is being said, and reading or writing skills. It can be very mild, and affects only one form of communication, but usually several aspects of communication are affected at the same time.

Around one in five (19%) survey respondents said they had encountered problems making a GP appointment and more than two fifths (43%) find communicating with their GP hard. Almost one third (31%) report problems in being understood by their GP or their GP understanding them.

The charity has released a short video for surgery and health centre staff to help them better understand the challenges faced by patients with aphasia.

The three-minute video uses the concept of Ask, Wait, Listen for patients, which has been developed as a result of feedback from stroke survivors with aphasia. This includes simple solutions, such as offering patients the opportunity to express “yes”, “no” or “I don’t understand.”

Over half of respondents (59%) said that having someone with them helped, while more than a third (38%) said they found slower speech helpful. And more than a quarter (27%) say simple speech (taking one thing at a time) and having more time with their GP makes a difference.

Dr Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "Anything that enhances communication between GPs and practice staff and their patients with aphasia should be encouraged.”

She added: "Patients presenting with aphasia are still quite rare in general practice and so the video is an innovative and simple approach to help GPs improve interactions with patients with aphasia by reminding us quickly and easily of the vital things to remember."

Chris Clark, Stroke Association’s Director of Life After Stroke Services, said that staff in GP practices and community health centres had a key role in supporting stroke survivors to rebuild and maintain their health and confidence.

“Many stroke survivors tell us about the extra effort by some staff to support them and the difference this makes. But for others there’s still more to be done in providing them with information about the additional services and support that’s available out there,” he said.

“We estimate that there are around 367,000 stroke survivors in the UK who have aphasia. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution as aphasia affects people differently but we’ve developed a range of tools and support services to take this into account.

We hope this initiative will start a dialogue about what stroke survivors with aphasia have told us helps them to overcome a very frustrating and isolating disability,” he added.

View the video here: www.stroke.org.uk/aphasia.

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