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Emerson plays role in Aphasia Awareness Day

Faculty and students from Emerson’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders were at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday, June 27, for Aphasia Awareness Day—hoping to raise awareness about the neurological condition that commonly affects people who’ve suffered a stroke, brain injury, brain tumor, or dementia.

“It affects about one in 250 people,” said Jena Casbon, a CSD clinical instructor. “It’s a very prevalent problem that most people don’t know about until you have it, or a loved one has it.”


Jena Casbon, clinical instructor for Emerson's Communication Sciences and Disorders Department

Emerson’s Robbins Center treats about 20 people a week who are impaired by aphasia, which is when a portion of the brain affected by injury or illness deteriorates a person’s ability to communicate.

“The hallmark problem of aphasia is word-finding difficulty,” Casbon said.

While aphasia affects each person differently, a common sign is when the person loses some ability to speak. However, aphasia does not diminish someone’s overall intelligence.

Casbon said she and Laura Glufling-Tham, another CSD clinical instructor, planned to be at the State House along with graduate and undergraduate students, in an interview before the event. They joined people from the Boston medical community, including Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, to share information about the condition with lawmakers.


Laura Glufling-Tham, clinical instructor for Emerson's Communication Sciences and Disorders Department

“A lot of the awareness-raising has to do with getting more therapy and rehabilitation services available,” said Casbon. “It’s a pretty debilitating problem—not to be able to communicate.”

The Robbins Center sees aphasia patients ranging in severity—from those who can barely speak to others who can speak in sentences, but can only say a few words at a time.

Therapy sessions include teaching more seriously affected patients to use non-verbal gestures or an iPad to communicate, while others take on role-playing exercises that include how to order food at a restaurant and other everyday tasks.

Casbon said the majority of the Robbins Center patients are people whose insurance coverage for aphasia-related therapy ran out.

“Insurance companies’ plans vary. Some may be two months, or for some other finite amount of time,” she said. “For people who are impaired, that’s just not enough time to make significant improvements.”

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