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Living with a brain injury – an expert highlights treatments

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. The Royal Gazette is helping to improve knowledge on how to prevent and treat brain injuries, as well as highlight services available for those affected. Monica Kurz has a master's degree in speech-language pathology, is certified in stroke rehabilitation and has worked in the US, Canada, and Bermuda. She speaks to Sarah Lagan about how speech can be affected and how communication can be improved.

Loss of the ability to speak after a brain injury can have a major effect on quality of life, an expert has said.

But Monica Kurz said there were therapeutic services on the island to help people to regain their communication skills, as well as simple functions such as the ability to swallow that could also be affected.

Ms Kurz, a speech-language pathologist at Atlantic Speech Intervention Services, said: “Speech may change due to the muscles being affected which can impact others’ ability to understand the individual and they may even experience judgement in the community.

“Some patients have a difficult time thinking of the words they want to use to express themselves.”

Atlantic Speech Intervention Services, based in Hamilton, provides therapy for children and adults with brain injuries caused by strokes, tumours or head injuries.

Ms Kurz explained that people’s ability to interpret social cues during conversations could also be affected.

She said: “They may not know they are speaking off topic or taking over a conversation. Interpreting the nuances of non-verbal communication can be tough.

“For example, the person may not notice your hand on the door knob, indicating you need to get going and they may keep the conversation going.”

Ms Kurz said that there may also be damage in areas such as memory, attention and organisation, but that there ways to compensate for weaknesses.

She added: “There are overlaps of care with all therapy and it is important to take a team-based, collaborative approach with professionals and families.”

Ms Kurz said there were methods people could use to improve communication with people who had suffered brain problems.

She added: “Avoid nodding along to the conversation if you don’t understand.

“Tell the person and often they may try to tell you in a different way with different words, gestures, or even pictures.

“When speaking to someone, give them time to process the words you are saying and to form a response. Let the person finish what they are saying – avoid filling in the words unless they ask for help.”

Ms Kurz said: “For those lacking the ability to recognise social cues, you may have to outright tell them, for example, ‘I have to go now’.

“We are social beings and the skills mentioned above are hallmark communication skills that help us bond.

“Our social relationships and ability to connect with one another are also important for our mental wellbeing.”

Chewing and swallowing skills can also be affected after a head injury.

Muscles must be able to perform these motor skills without food and drink getting into the lungs.

Ms Kurz said: “Treatment may focus on changing the foods that we eat and fluids we drink while also working on rehabilitating the muscles.”

Island resources

Speech Language pathology services are available at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, the Department of Health and from private practices.

The Primary Stroke Centre at the KEMH.

Neurology outpatient clinic, neurovascular clinic and stroke prevention clinic at the KEMH. Phone 239-1836 or e-mail neurology.clinic@bhb.bm

Bermuda TBI survivor/caregiver support group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/355732136198613/

Bermuda Family Stroke and Support Association

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Published March 31, 2022 at 7:39 am (Updated March 31, 2022 at 7:39 am)

Living with a brain injury – an expert highlights treatments

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