Stroke survivor who 'wanted to die' reclaims voice after aphasia diagnosis

  • Stroke survivor Clive Hodges says being diagnosed with aphasia left him wanting to die, but now he feels hopeful about the future

More than half of the Welsh population have never heard of aphasia - despite it affecting around 40% of Wales' 70,000 stroke survivors.

Research by the Stroke Association also found only 40% of people would feel confident communicating with someone with the disorder.

Aphasia is a language and communication disorder that affects someone's ability to speak, read, write and use numbers.

It is usually caused by damage to the brain, such as from a stroke, severe head injury or brain tumour, or progressive neurological conditions, such as dementia.

Clive Hodges, 57, from Porth, was rushed to hospital after having a stroke in January 2022.

The father-of-three was given thrombolysis, a clot-busting drug, but he was left with aphasia.

"I felt terrible about it. In the morning, night, I felt so bad about it. I thought I could be okay, but I couldn't," he said.

"I wanted to die. Sorry to say it, but I did want to. I hated it. I couldn't walk, I couldn't talk, nothing. I just couldn't say anything, it was so bad."

Clive enjoys taking his dog Pepper for long walks as part of his recovery.

Mr Hodges has been having communication support sessions with a coordinator from the Stroke Association, who has helped him to understand his aphasia and develop techniques to help with his speech.

He now enjoys taking his dog Pepper for long walks, doing word searches, listening to music and singing.

"Now I like to talk to everybody, it feels good, I feel good about it," he said.

"If I see someone walking the dog, if they talk to me, I tell them, I show them what I've got, and then people like talking back.

"I once drove a long time, and when I got there I wanted something to eat, and I couldn't say it in the shop I went to, so I didn't have anything to eat.

"I could've said it but I didn't want to. But now I'm getting better about it, I'm thinking next time I'll try it."

The family of Die Hard star Bruce Willis announced he had been diagnosed with aphasia in March 2022. Credit: PA Images

There are thought to be more than 350,000 people living with aphasia in the UK.

It hit the headlines last year when Hollywood star Bruce Willis stepped away from acting after being diagnosed with the condition.

But the Stroke Association is campaigning for even greater awareness.

Llinos Wyn Parry, engagement lead for Wales, said: "It's very important for their psychological wellbeing and their confidence to realise and understand what aphasia is and how to speak with somebody with aphasia.

"For example, asking questions slowly, making sure that they have understood the question, but I think the most important thing here is for people to listen."

Associate director for Wales, Katie Chappelle added: "Most of us can't imagine living with aphasia, but it makes everyday tasks like getting on the bus or talking to a friend daunting, made worse by misconceptions that people with aphasia lack intelligence.

"This can often lead to anxiety and depression, feeling excluded from society and difficulties with personal relationships.

"The Stroke Association is here for everyone affected by aphasia, providing support and an important reminder that there is hope.

"Aphasia can and does improve, and with the right help people with aphasia can live their best lives."

  • What are the different types of aphasia?

Primary progressive aphasia (PPA) is a rare type of dementia which affects speech and communication. Symptoms tend to worsen over time.

PPA can manifest itself in speech becoming more difficult to form, making mistakes with the sounds of words, speech becoming slower or more vague and forgetting the meaning of complicated words.

It is caused by clumps of abnormal protein forming inside brain cells, mainly in the front and side of the brain, that control language and behaviour.

  • What treatments are there?

Currently, speech and language therapy is the main type of treatment for people with aphasia.

The aim of this is to help people restore communicative functions and find new ways of expression.

The majority of people diagnosed with the condition from a single event make at least some degree of recovery with therapy.

However, there is less of a chance of recovery for those with aphasia resulting from a progressive neurological condition, which causes the brain and nervous system to become damaged over time.

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