Professor launches program for bilingual patients

Speech-Language Pathology and a licensed speech-language pathologist, along with colleagues, launched the first program for Spanish-English bilingual aphasia patients last month at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Manhattan.

Aphasia consists of a loss of communicative skills, along with paralysis or diminished physical capabilities after suffering a stroke.

Those suffering from bilingual aphasia face a unique challenge– after having a stroke, a person who once spoke two languages may
now have trouble saying anything in either.

A large segment of those facing this particular problem are native Spanish speakers, and until now were relatively ignored when it came to getting help regaining speech.

“The bilingual aphasia support group is the only one in New York City,” said Dorothy Ross, a Clinical Specialist and at St. Vincent’s and one of the handful of specialists offering their services free of charge as part of the program.

“Since a large number of people in New York are primarily Spanish speaking, there is an urgent need for these services.”

While the program at St. Vincent’s does not provide therapy, those in the group observe the difficulties stroke survivors and “co-survivors,” as they’ve designated victim’s families have with one another.
They also examine the problems that come from a rehabilitation system designed traditionally and exclusively in English. As Dr. Centeno stated, they try to stress that despite appearances, the afflicted have not lost any of their intellect.
“People come in, talk in their languages, meet others in similar circumstances, get some strategies to live in the most productive ways they can,” said Dr. Centeno. “All of this is very helpful to them. They get a sense they aren’t alone and they can function in society again.”
According to Dr. Centeno, Latin Americans learn English with a different mindset, often relying more on phonetics and technicality rather than the informality they used to develop linguistic skills in their native language.

This creates a problem after one suffers a stroke, as their ability to use either language may be compromised.

Adding to the complexities is that there is no way of telling how a bilingual person will be affected by a stroke, coupled with cultural differences pertaining to the concepts of therapy and disabilities.