Recommending change in post-stroke speech therapy

Griffith Head of Speech Pathology, Associate Professor Elizabeth Cardell
Griffith Head of Speech Pathology, Associate Professor Elizabeth Cardell

Investment in intense therapy for post-stroke patients with aphasia improves quality of life for survivors as well as significant savings to the hospital system.

This is according to new research from Griffith University’s School of Rehabilitation Sciences due to be presented at this week’s Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference 2012.

Aphasia is the inability to communicate and/or comprehend language and contributes to a dramatic and perhaps unnecessary decline in quality of life in nearly 30% of Australia’s
60,000 annual stroke survivors.

Unlike dementia, people with aphasia are otherwise lucid and can often become depressed by their condition, with their physical health declining with their mental health.

A recent study of over 66,000 inpatients revealed that after adjusting for age, gender, and other co morbidities, aphasia was the disorder which most negatively impacted on quality
of life in comparison to any other health condition including cancer and dementia.

Griffith Head of Speech Pathology, Associate Professor Elizabeth Cardell is calling for a change in acute post-stroke therapy in Queensland hospitals following research which found intense therapy yielded considerably improved outcomes for patients with aphasia.

“Some people with aphasia have described the condition as living with a crackly telephone line in their head, ‘I know what I want to say, I can see the word, I can hear the word, I just can’t get it out!’ It’s enormously frustrating and debilitating for them,” said Dr Cardell.

Improvement comes through early and intensive intervention

“What we found in our research is a significant improvement in communication ability and quality of life when intensive therapy is undertaken early; this means two or three times as many weekly sessions as is generally provided now.”

“Intensive therapy actually appears to change the brain, a kind of rewiring occurs which allows the improvements to translate more deeply into everyday life in a way casual
therapy does not.

“For people with aphasia in the acute (first 6-12 weeks following a stroke) and sub-acute (6-12 months following) rehabilitation categories, current sessions in many public hospitals are 1-2 weekly sessions when 5 – 8 or more sessions seems much better.”

Intensive therapy clinics in any mode were between 20 and 54% more effective than more casual treatment.

Dr Cardell’s team carried out research at Gold Coast, Ipswich and QE2 Hospitals using three different kinds of therapy support.

“Beyond being able to see improvements in speech outcomes we’ve had reports from patients, family and carers of really significant changes in the quality of life outcomes of
people following the intensive speech therapy.”

For more information on the Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference 2012 please visit