When one experiences a stroke, many parts of the body are often affected, requiring physical therapy and exercise in order to reach a previous level of mobility. What this also means is that, in order to recover the energy used in various therapies, patients must spend a lot of time resting. In these periods, boredom and depression can settle in, making pleasurable distractions, like reading a book or magazine, a welcome escape.
Unfortunately, a frustrating discovery that many stroke patients experience is that reading (something they were likely proficient at before) has suddenly become a struggle. Words either seem to disappear or escape their grasp, and sentences are overwhelming.
Alexia- what it is:
Reading difficulties after a stroke are often referred to as “alexia” or “acquired dyslexia.” When the left side of the brain experiences damage or trauma, it is common for language abilities to suffer due to the fact that most language functions occur in the left hemisphere.
Reading impairments, along with the damage to language function, are also commonly caused by visual disruptions. Symptoms such as double vision or blind spots in words and sentences make even silent reading a struggle, and the act of communicating it verbally can seem almost impossible.
How a stroke affects reading:
Because Alexia occurs after a patient has fully developed their reading abilities, there are usually remnants of language skills still functioning. For example, many stroke survivors find it easier to read silently to themselves than to read aloud. Word retrieval is an incredibly common difficulty among stroke survivors, so coupling the act of visually comprehending with audibly reading can cause stress and confusion.
Depending on the extent and location of the damage, however, even silent reading can become severely impaired. Words that aren’t easily sounded out based on their letters, or those that are abstract in nature, commonly create frustration for stroke survivors.
How to work around reading impairments:
Couple listening with reading. One way to enjoy a favorite form of entertainment and work toward the correction of reading impairments is to pair media with printed words. By watching a TV show or movie with the captions turned on, a patient can experience the words through sight and sound simultaneously. Similarly, reading a physical book while listening to that same book on tape will provide an opportunity to match the look of words to their sounds and pronunciations.
Remove the written part of a task:
Another way to work around alexia is to simply remove the written part of a task to gain more independence. A task like visiting the grocery store in order to stock the pantry can become very overwhelming for someone who is having trouble reading. Rather than writing out a shopping list, many stroke survivors have found that creating a list using product logos and pictures allows them the independence to accomplish this previously simple task.
Talk to a Speech Language Pathologist. An SLP is trained to, among many other things, diagnose cognitive problems caused by strokes. By getting a formal diagnosis, an SLP will then be able to work with a patient and his or her needs, so that they may come up with a personalized treatment plan.
The SLP will use exercises, such as sounding out and naming letters, to help a stroke survivor work through their reading impairment and make progress toward reaching their previous level of ability.