Story of Impact: Adler Aphasia Center

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on May 25, 2018 # Health, Mobility

When successful entrepreneur Mike Adler suffered a stroke after bypass surgery, he was left with aphasia. Often undiagnosed by the medical community, aphasia is an acquired language disorder that can affect communication in a variety of ways ranging from trouble reading and writing to challenges speaking and understanding words. For Mike, that meant that he could no longer lead his employees or communicate effectively with his wife Elaine.

“People can’t get the words out that they are trying to say and it becomes isolating and depressing,” said Elissa Goldstein, director of development and communications at the Adler Aphasia Center in Maywood, NJ. “They lose self-esteem and confidence because they can’t speak with family and friends.”

Although there were many hospital-based speech pathology services, the Adler’s couldn’t find a program that focused on long-term therapeutic rehabilitation for aphasia. After considerable research, they founded the Adler Aphasia Center in 2003, an innovative non-profit organization committed to helping people with aphasia and their caregivers to re-engage in their communities and improve their quality of life.

“We function like a therapeutic community center with more than 80 members,” said Goldstein. “Several times a week our members come together to build their communication skills using words, non-verbal cues and assistive technologies like iPads. Our programs are run by licensed and trained speech language pathologists using a hands-on participation approach based on what you would do in everyday life. For example, we have conversations related to current events, cooking, theater, technology and art. The goal is to keep it fun and interesting.”

In addition to bi-weekly communication groups in multiple locations around New Jersey, the Center focuses on raising aphasia awareness by teaching healthcare professionals, students, service employees and the general public about the challenges and strategies for working with people with aphasia. The Center also hosts the “Something Special” program, a member-run boutique of member hand-crafted gifts to support the Center’s scholarship fund.

“The shop has raised more than $375,000 in scholarship funds and builds tremendous pride in all the participants,” said Goldstein. “We are the largest center of our kind in the world and our members are like a family. It is a very supportive and heartwarming place where people can speak without worry or embarrassment.”

Technology is also a big part of the Center’s programs. In 2014, the Center received its first Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant to expand access to new assistive technologies. In addition to purchasing equipment and software upgrades, the grant supported the development of “appy hour,” a lunchtime program designed to build comfort and confidence in using iPads. An “ePal” program was also created to link the Center’s members with speech pathology college students. ePal gives members more communication experience and introduces future speech language pathologists to people with aphasia.

“Having Reeve Foundation support has added a great amount of prestige for us,” said Goldstein. “It is a really powerful partnership; a relationship we really value.”

In 2016, the Center received a second Reeve Foundation Quality of Life grant to develop an innovative, new Virtual Aphasia Program. Using internet conferencing technologies, the program connects people with aphasia who are restricted in their mobility and, thus, their access to aphasia services and social connections. The meetings are led by a trained facilitator who is also living with aphasia.

“The Virtual Aphasia Communications Group provides members with a vital opportunity to mitigate their isolation, become connected with other people with aphasia, and begin to engage in the focused rehabilitation of their communication skills in a manner that gives them hope,” said Goldstein. “It helps them communicate more effectively while feeling better about themselves and their ability to live more independently.”

The grant funds supported programmatic expenses including five iPads that are loaned to program participants.

“The Reeve Foundation has given us the opportunity to expand into a program where no other aphasia program has gone and we are very grateful,” said Goldstein. “They have enabled us to start a pioneering process to reach individuals with much-needed support. There are more than two million people living in the Unites States with aphasia. This grant has allowed us to find new pathways to help more people build communication skills, social connections and peer support.”