The University of South Carolina will lead research into rehabilitating the communication skills of people who have had strokes, using one of the largest grants in school history.
The school was awarded $11.1 million from the National Institutes of Health for research that could aid recovery of hundreds of stroke patients. USC’s five-year study, starting next month, will include work with Johns Hopkins University, University of California Irvine and the Medical University of South Carolina.
About a third of the nation’s 800,000-a-year stroke sufferers have problems afterward with speaking, writing, reading and understanding language, disorders known as aphasia.
The disorders can leave stroke sufferers isolated in the community, said Julius Fridriksson, an USC public health professor who specializes in studying communication disorders after strokes.
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“If you can’t communicate, your life is over as it used to be,” he said. “Most of these people lose their friends. They don’t want to go to church any more because there’s a stigma, because people associated it with intellectual problems. It’s not like their IQ has gone down.”
The study will try to determine the best treatment options and which stroke survivors are more likely to recover from communication disorders.
“(W)hen they know they have a stroke in a hospital or when they come for rehabilitation, they can find out, ‘What is my chance of getting better?’ ” said Fridriksson, who will help head the study.
“We know very little about why is it that some people recover very well, whereas others are left with lifelong disabilities.”
South Carolina has one of the nation’s highest instances of stroke, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. Stroke rates also are rising among younger South Carolinians. Those under age 60, make up more than half of sufferers, Fridriksson said.
The causes of strokes are the same as heart attacks, including poor diet and smoking, he said.