One of the most devastating things to come from the brain injury and aphasia is the loss of employment. Loss of employment hurts on many levels—less income, which may mean less therapy and less progress, loss of a structured day, loss of work friends, and a sense that your purpose is gone. Finally comes the realization that this aphasia isn’t going to go away quickly.
People with aphasia aren’t necessarily older and retired. The majority of our clients are younger, active families who now have a family member with aphasia. That person may have been working a high-level job or run their own business, so aphasia breaks apart their whole world. They may have been a brilliant salesperson, a hawk-eyed bookkeeper or a doctor. The person with aphasia may remember general information about their jobs, but can’t relate complex information through any language output.
For example, a bookkeeper looked over spreadsheets about her condo complex’s budget and circled items that she questioned. However, she couldn’t easily explain why those numbers were questionable. The knowledge is there, but the ability to communicate that knowledge is impaired.
Clients are often at our facility when they learn the inevitable—they’ve been replaced at their company. They may feel betrayed, worthless or sad. Going back to work was a goal—it meant a return to normal life. It was the dangling carrot leading them on. Knowing that their job was being held for them helped them think of the aphasia as more temporary. Now the reality sets in—they must rethink everything. There may also be a faint sense of relief, however, because the client knows that he cannot handle work yet. This lessens the pressure to cram it all in right away when there is so much going on.
For those clients who wish to return to some type of work, work related activities and experiences are very important. Even if their prior job level and responsibilities is out of their reach, it gives them hope and a purpose for continuing therapy. Many people need to feel that they’re contributing their part, and right now that contribution is working in therapy.
While that particular job isn’t an option for now, it doesn’t rule out all jobs forever, regardless of what the neurologist might say. We help a lot of clients with work-related activities and plans both during and after the program. Some clients discover that they’d rather do something else than return to their line of work. Some clients discover a different purpose, such as helping others with aphasia. Some clients stay involved in their businesses, but have other family members to take over. There are all kinds of little ways to give the person with aphasia responsibilities to increase their self-esteem, function at a higher level and contribute to the family. Small adjustment in communication style can help the person with aphasia feel more capable being independent. Take it one step at a time and never give up.