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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 December 2007, 01:05 GMT
Stroke victim 'was misdiagnosed as mad'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Steve Hall
Steve Hall lost his power of speech
When Steve Hall had a stroke four years ago he lost the ability to speak - but that was just the start of his troubles.

Doctors feared he was suffering mental health problems and he was placed in a secure unit, where his stroke went undetected.

Steve, whose symptoms were later recognised as aphasia (speech loss following stroke), was terrified.

He did not understand what was happening and felt abandoned by the health professionals who could have helped him.

"They thought I was mad," said the 54-year-old from Bolton, Greater Manchester.

'So scared'

"I think they thought I had had a nervous breakdown. I could not speak at all at the time. I was communicating through my wife. It was a nightmare.

"They asked if I had had brain surgery in the past, they mentioned cancer - but nothing was mentioned about a stroke."

Steve was held in the secure unit for five weeks.

I went from doing the crossword in the Times every day to not being able to write or say my own name
Steve Hall

"I could not say how scared I was - I just kept grabbing my wife and son."

Steve had suffered a minor stroke, but the symptoms were simply not recognised for what they were.

"I went from doing the crossword in the Times every day to not being able to write or say my own name. But with lots of practice over the last few years I am now able to write again."

Although Steve was held in the secure unit, he was allowed home once or twice for supervised visits.

Eventually the specialist discharged him without any explanation, simply advising that he still needed close supervision.

Steve was delighted to be home, but said it had been a deeply traumatic incident.

Speech therapy

"It knocked my confidence so much being in there that the relief was unbelievable to finally get out," he said.

When Steve left hospital he still struggled to communicate, but could say a few words.

So he enrolled with a speech and language therapist - paid for by himself - and she was the first to diagnose his problem as aphasia.

"Until she diagnosed aphasia I was in the dark. It was such a relief to finally find out what was wrong and be able to put a name to it," he said.

But he said he was annoyed he had to fund the treatment himself.

"Once I left hospital as I wasn't offered anything on the NHS."

Learning to communicate

Steve has progressed so much that he recently passed his advanced driving test - a test that involved him giving a running commentary while concentrating on his driving.

Now Steve does talks to professionals and people who have had strokes about the condition in a bid to prevent others having the same frightening experience.

An art image of a stroke. Photo credit: Laguna Design/SPL
In a stroke an area of the brain is deprived of its blood supply

It is estimated there are more than 250,000 people like Steve who are living with aphasia in the UK.

But because of the complexities of aphasia and the fact that people with it often have no physical signs of disability, it is sometimes misdiagnosed.

A spokesman for the Aphasia Alliance said: "People with aphasia are often wrongly pigeon-holed as stupid. In some cases people have even been thought to be drunk - as they sometimes slur their words and they cannot always speak or understand speech at what is perceived to be a 'normal' rate.

"However aphasia does not affect intelligence, and often just giving someone with aphasia a bit of extra time or speaking slightly clearer and slightly slower can make a world of difference."

Early help

Carole Pound, a speech and language therapist from the Aphasia Alliance, said low levels of public awareness of aphasia often made everyday activities a very daunting prospect for patients.

"By increasing understanding of aphasia we will be opening the door for many, many people to feel more involved and play an equal part in life."

"Simple things like buying a train ticket or withdrawing money at the bank can become a stressful ordeal for someone with aphasia - other people need to change and learn how to give a bit of extra time and understanding."

She said speech and language therapy could help people like Steve, and stressed early interventions are important.

SEE ALSO
The mind's strange syndromes
08 Sep 00 |  UK News

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