Art, Music and a 'Man Cave' Group Bring Hope to Individual's Struggling to Regain Their Speech

May 30, 2017

Every day millions of Americans struggle to be understood. Affected by stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease or other neurological conditions, they live with the hopelessness and isolation that often accompanies the loss of ability to communicate.

A unique communication recovery program at St. Jude Medical Center is changing that, by giving individuals the ability to regain their speech. This innovative program, one of the few in the country, offers specialized speech therapy techniques in a highly interactive setting.

The communication recovery groups focus on therapeutic interventions that incorporate art, music, games, conversations about current events, and a myriad of other everyday interactions. And what begins as simple sentences between those with common limitations, often becomes conversations between good friends.

“The sole purpose of these groups is to improve speech and language in a safe environment designed to meet the therapeutic and emotional needs of anyone affected by aphasia or other impairment,” explains Jennifer Even, M.S. CCC, a speech language pathologist at St. Jude, who says progress among the participants can be dramatic. “I often get goosebumps watching the interactions and improvement. To see individuals break out of their fear and hopelessness, return to work or school, or simply resume their everyday lives with confidence and hope, makes me very grateful to be a part of this.”

Erin Rigby is one example. After going to bed with a severe headache, the Anaheim resident was unable to form words the next morning when she tried to order breakfast at a local McDonalds—a common symptom of a stroke. “Since joining this group, one of the best moments was when I was able to tell my husband that I loved him,” explains the 59-year-old, who has recovered most of her speech and language ability.

Over 15 different groups are currently meeting, each based on level of impairment as well as interests or hobbies. “Some of our participants begin with almost no ability to produce language, while others are already well on their way to recovery when they join,” says Jennifer, explaining that the focus of each group varies—from music and singing, to a men’s “Man Cave” group—allowing the participants’ specific interests to create a motivating and dynamic atmosphere. “Part of helping patients regain their lives is helping them reconnect with what they loved doing. There is a place here for everyone.”

Trained volunteers, often speech pathology students from local universities, assist with one-on-one exercises and group activities. Each of the therapy groups, as well as a support group designed to meet the needs of loved ones and caretakers, meet at a local church in Fullerton.

Communication recovery groups are one element of St. Jude’s comprehensive and highly respected speech therapy program, which offers services for children and adults with a wide range of speech impairments, including stuttering, developmental delays, autism, difficulty swallowing, voice overuse, perception disorders, speech impairment related to cancer or brain injury, and aphasia (difficulty communicating or understanding language).

For more information about communication recovery or speech therapy at St. Jude, visit stjudemedicalcenter.org/speechtherapy

About St. Jude Medical Center:

St. Jude Medical Center is a faith-based, non-profit 320-bed tertiary care hospital in Fullerton, California. Established 60 years ago by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, the Magnet-designated hospital has earned a reputation for clinical excellence and nationally-recognized programs, including being named one of Southern California’s best hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. St. Jude’s physicians and staff offer specialized care in neurosciences, stroke, digestive diseases, cancer, orthopedics, maternal/newborn, robotic and minimally-invasive surgery, cardiac and rehabilitation. Please visit stjudemedicalcenter.org for more information.

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