Researchers from Speech Pathology, within the School of Allied Health at Australia’s La Trobe University, have published the results of a longitudinal investigation into the impacts of acquired aphasia on the social networks of stroke survivors. The study focuses on documenting how communicative deficits disrupt the close personal relationships of person with aphasia (PWA) following stroke, focusing in particular on how those changes unfold at three-month intervals during the first year post-onset. The goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of the lived experiences of persons with aphasia, over the period of spontaneous recovery and into the first months of chronic aphasia.
To conduct the study, investigators recruited seven PWA, 43 to 93 y/o, who were approaching discharge from inpatient rehabilitation units following a first stroke. Six were male, one was female, and their aphasic deficits ranged from mild to severe. Each participant was interviewed on four occasions, first soon after discharge to home, and then thrice more at three-month intervals. The interviews were semi-structured, with investigators using a topic guide to keep participants’ attention on their experiences in close personal relationships with spouses, children, family, and friends. Participants could choose to be interviewed alone, or with a family member, and interview sessions ran from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. For additional information on participants, they were assessed at the first interview with the Western Aphasia Battery – Revised, the Montgomory-Asberg Depression Rating Scale, and ‘My Social Map’ construction, which graphically depicts a participant’s current social network. Data analysis employed a constructivist grounded theory approach, analyzing participants’ data via a bottom-up, inductive methodology that permits generation of contextually refined hypotheses with reference to which interview recordings are transcribed, coded, analyzed, and interpreted.
Research results show that initially – after stroke – PWAs report relying on a core group of ‘close others’ who comprise their ‘inner circle’. Previously established relationship dynamics within this inner circle underwent changes and challenges as participants learned to adjust and adapt to the issues posed by aphasic communicative deficits. As PWA improved, gained experience and felt prepared, they began reconnecting with friends – a process that was usually mediated by spouses, and could proceed only slowly and effortfully. For those without strong inner circle bonds, marked isolation remained an ongoing issue.
For further reading: A. Ford, J. M. Douglas, R. O’Halloran. 2023, From the inner circle to rebuilding social networks: a grounded theory longitudinal study exploring the experience of close personal relationships from the perspective of people with post stroke aphasia Aphasiology, pub. online 10.Mar.2023: 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/02687038.2023.2185480