UCL and partners: supporting people with aphasia to better dialogue



Thanks to a new course developed by UCL, a charity and arts organization, people with communication difficulties find ways to facilitate conversation.

Aphasia is a serious communication difficulty that affects the way people speak, understand, read, and write words. It is something that can develop after a brain injury (most often after a stroke) and 350,000 people are currently living with it in the UK.

Yet only 5% of the population has even heard of it, making what can be a very difficult condition also a very lonely place.

“Imagine not being able to talk like you can now. Not being able to order a coffee in a café, share your day with your partner, chat with your children. It is like that for people living with aphasia. They lost their language. It robs them of their ability to connect, be heard and listen, ”says UCL-based speech therapist and doctoral student Firle Beckley.

Firle was instrumental in bringing the Art of Conversation to Aphasia together, a new eight-week creative wellness course that helps people with aphasia have more successful and enjoyable conversations.

Conversation through art

Building on research from UCL’s Better Conversation Research Lab, led by Dr. Suzanne Beeke, Associate Professor, Department of Language and Cognition at UCL, the course incorporates the latest conversation training in the arts and Culture. It is hosted by Firle and artist facilitator Nikki Hafter,

“We use art to inspire conversation between the group, while also incorporating what we know from conversations from our research, to give people with aphasia, their families and friends new conversation techniques and tools.

“We create an environment in which the group watches, talks and makes art, combined with the one-on-one exploration with each couple from a video of their daily conversation to spark ideas on how they can keep their conversations flowing. .

“It’s about designing and delivering a course that integrates the knowledge of people with lived experience, as well as art, to create something outside of people’s day-to-day experience, something that allows them to do nothing. no longer think about their aphasia for a minute or two, ”says Firle.

Pool collective expertise

The Art of Conversation with Aphasia was co-designed by a team from UCL, Pavillon De La Warr and the SayAphasia association. Open to people with aphasia and their chosen family member or friend, the course brings together collective expertise on aphasia and new ideas on how to live well with it, from the arts, health and academia.

The first round of sessions, which took place in early 2021, took place on Zoom due to the pandemic, but the team is hoping to hold future classes at Pavillon De La Warr, a cultural center on the south coast.

“It has worked wonderfully online. In some ways it was more intimate when we got to see each other’s life inside our homes. But doing it face to face means people can fully participate in De La Warr’s exhibits.

“We want to give people with aphasia the confidence to participate in the cultural activities that take place on their doorstep, to know that art is also for them. “

Innovation and partnership in action

The Art of Conversation with Aphasia was funded by UCL’s Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise. The project also received support from the Business and Innovation Partnerships team at UCL Innovation & Entreprise.

Commenting on the initiative, Kathryn Walsh, Executive Director, UCL Innovation & Enterprise, said: “This project is a fantastic example of knowledge exchange in action, where we were able to take UCL research and use it to create something that really makes a difference in people’s lives. Bringing together ideas from the arts, academia and the charitable sector, this project opens the door to an exciting new kind of training and therapy for people living with this debilitating disease.

Colin Lyall, founder of SayAphasia, who himself suffers from aphasia after suffering a stroke, and helped develop the program, said: “The reason I did this project was to be better and nice people to work with. I did some research on the guinea pig to try things out, but this project, great, yeah, was heard and made things better for people with aphasia.

Firle and his collaborators are now working on plans to expand the Art of Conversation with Aphasia program, with the goal of opening up the training to many more people living with the disease.

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