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Explaining aphasia and how Tucson is helping those with the disorder

Posted at 10:02 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 01:27:48-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Aphasia is a disorder that impacts a person's communication skills.

"A lot of the time we see a difficulty with speech production, word finding difficulty, and of course all the things you would expect if you can't understand what people are saying to you," Dr. Micah Etter, a stroke neurologist at Banner University Medical Center, said.

Etter said that aphasia can be caused by several things including a stroke, a traumatic brain injury, or some neurodegenerative conditions. However, there are ways to help manage it.

"We tend to see some recovery when people engage in things like speech therapy, language recovery, these kinds of things," Etter added.

One of the groups that focuses on doing this is Friends of Aphasia in Tucson. It is the only non-profit in Arizona that focuses on aphasia.

This provides treatment but also a place to communicate with others who understand what it is like. The disorder can be isolating according to Dr. Fabi Hirsch Kruse, Friends of Aphasia CEO.

"Having a place here where we can provide a sense of community with other people who just get it," Hirsch Kruse said. "People feel confident. They don't worry about making mistakes and so it's a very engaging and supportive environment during our groups."

One of the important distinctions is that the disorder does not impact cognitive skills.

"It's I think doubly frustrating because the person who has aphasia knows exactly what they want to say," Hirsch Kruse, said. "They just can't get to the words to get that information out."

Hirsch Kruse founded the non-profit four years ago with friends, including former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

Giffords has aphasia and sympathized with Bruce Willis and his family. She tweeted this message on Wednesday.

"I'm thinking of Bruce Willis and his family today," Giffords said. "Aphasia makes it hard for me to find the right words. It can be lonely and isolating, but Friends of Aphasia is trying to change that. To everyone living with aphasia, I'm here for you. We got this."

Giffords will often attend groups at Friends of Aphasia, according to Hirsch Kruse. The group is also working to find more treatment options.

"We really hope to make advances in treatment research so that people who are living with aphasia have more options, more therapy options available to them to really help them improve in their communication skills," Hirsch Kruse said.

Greg Bradbury is a reporter for KGUN 9. Greg is a graduate of Syracuse University where he studied Broadcast Journalism and Spanish. Greg joined KGUN 9 in February 2021 as a Multimedia Journalist after working at the ABC National Desk as a Digital News Associate. Share your story ideas and important issues with Greg by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.