The worst part of aphasia — the loss of communication skills due to a stroke or brain injury — is the isolation it causes, according to Wendy Greenspan.
“Language and communication are what bring us together as human beings,” the speech and language pathologist told NJ Jewish News. “When that is taken away, you lose so many social connections. Friends disappear. You get isolated.”
Greenspan is the coordinator of education and training at the Adler Aphasia Center in Maywood. As of May 8, she will also be directing the Adler satellite center in West Orange, at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC, Ross Family Campus, striving to help people overcome that isolation.
The center will be offering twice- weekly programs for people diagnosed with aphasia, providing them with social interaction and activities that build not just speech but other key aspects of cognition, communication, and life skills. There will also be programming for their caregivers.
The center, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, is being funded in part by the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and the Grotta Fund for Senior Care of the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ. Adler does not accept insurance; the charge is $25 a day for three hours of therapeutic programming. Participants will also have access to a number of JCC programs.
The West Orange center is the second expansion for Adler; its first satellite center was established at Hadassah Medical College in Jerusalem.
In an interview in the JCC cafe on the campus, Greenspan talked about aphasia and described her plans for the new center. “There are two things that we really want to emphasize,” she said: “First, aphasia does not affect people’s intellectual capacity. They know what they want to say; they just have trouble expressing it. And second, although there is no cure, they can make improvement all the way through their lives.”
The focus at the center will be on social interaction. “We’ll be offering all the activities that we have in Maywood except the cooking class,” she said. That includes current affairs discussions, singing, cards and other games, reading, computers, drama, and photography. Also among the offerings will be jewelry-making, a project initiated by a center client as a form of therapy and a fund-raiser.
Greenspan, who is a member of Congregation Beth Israel, the Conservative synagogue in Scotch Plains, said the Jewish principle of tikun olam — partnering with God to repair the world — has always brought meaning to the work she does. “In the morning service on Shabbat, in the Nishmat prayer, we praise God for ‘giving voice to the speechless,’” she said. “The work that I do with people with aphasia is how I lend a hand in repairing the world.”
Most of the aphasia clients are in their mid-60s, but the condition can affect people of all ages, said Greenspan, who is also an adjunct instructor at Kean University, where she helped launch its Institute for Adults Living with Communication Disabilities. She mentioned a client in his 30s. After having a stroke and losing his ability to talk fluently, he found himself shying away from social contact. She said that with therapy, she was able to connect him with other people with aphasia, and he began to make new friends.
She also spoke about two members of the Maywood center who discovered a shared love of photography. Though words didn’t come readily for either of them, exploring images helped improve their language and relationship skills.
Greenspan said she and her staff will work in the JCC’s Schwarz Room, a large, bright space that opens onto a deck and has an adjoining computer lab. While the Maywood center has around 100 clients, the new center is expected to start with about 25. People can attend for as long as they choose.
The Maywood center was started nine years ago by Elaine Adler and her husband, Mike, an aphasia sufferer himself who had had a stroke nine years before that. The couple, who still run their highly successful mail order marketing business, live in Franklin Lakes.
Elaine Adler told NJ Jewish News in an e-mail last week that from the start, they were determined to do something to help others in Mike’s situation. “So many stroke and aphasia survivors in this country ‘plateau out’ of speech therapy after their insurance options are depleted,” she said. “They are left with no option but to go home and live with a declining quality of life. This affects both the person with aphasia and their caregivers.”
To design their center, they drew on the best of the programs they visited around the country to provide a community-based, affordable way for those people to continue therapy. In additional to licensed speech-language pathologists and other professionals, they have the support of a cadre of volunteers.
“This has given Mike and me such simcha,” Elaine wrote. “We are delighted to be able to expand our successful therapy program to the JCC MetroWest community. And with the achievements of the Adler Aphasia Center at Hadassah College in Jerusalem, we are truly demonstrating that our model of treatment has a place in post-rehabilitation aphasia therapy.”
For more information about the Adler Aphasia Center at JCC MetroWest, contact Wendy Greenspan at 973-530-3981 or go to www.adleraphasiacenter.org.