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Shepherd Center Raises Awareness Among First Responders about People with Impaired Ability to Speak and Understand Words

Shepherd Center staff members are hoping to raise awareness among first responders with a new training program to help responders recognize and interact appropriately with people who have aphasia. 

The condition, which often occurs after a stroke or brain injury, is an impairment of the ability to speak and understand words. There are an estimated one million people in the United States with aphasia, and approximately 18,000 live in the Atlanta area.

The training is important to police and emergency personnel who may encounter people with aphasia during stressful situations, said Shepherd Center speech-language pathologist Tracey Wallace.

“Police can mistakenly think people with aphasia are drunk or trying not to be helpful,” Wallace said. “And it’s not uncommon for people with aphasia to become frustrated because they can’t say what they want to say, and instead unintentionally say something inappropriate. If the officers are not prepared for that, they might misunderstand, and it could change the tone of their interaction.

“Also, there have been cases where people with aphasia were trying to report a crime or medical emergency, and they have difficulty explaining the problem,” she added.

The first training session for police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and some civilian administrative personnel is scheduled for 9 to 11 a.m. Nov. 16 at the Fulton County Public Safety Training Center.

Included in the training will be tools and tips that will enable emergency personnel to communicate more easily with people who have aphasia. Also attending the session will be several people with aphasia who volunteered to give participants first-hand experience with the condition.

The training will be provided under the auspices of the National Aphasia Association. Funding for the training materials is provided by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.