Taking time to talk, it helps…

Back row, speech and language therapists Jonathan Bose and Cathy Allen. Front row, Michael Casserley, Eric Arthur, and Tony Croft.

Men in Southwark who find conversation difficult because of health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and stroke are overcoming their difficulties by visiting a conversation group set up by speech and language therapists at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Adult Community Services

The therapists arrange for patients to meet regularly at a local coffee house in Peckham. The men are encouraged to practise conversation skills like asking questions and making comments to show interest in people so they regain their confidence.

Some patients have gone on to meet outside of the group and to use the techniques they have been shown by the therapists like giving more eye contact and using breathing strategies to make their speech clearer.

Tony Croft, 67, a retired caretaker from Peckham, who has Alzheimer’s said: “Sometimes when I am talking things come back to me, things that happened 20 years ago. I’d forget things and get cross. I wouldn’t feel like talking to anyone.

“When I’m with the group I’m talking to people like me. I’m speaking a lot better now. I’ll go out shopping with my wife, meet the neighbours and people in the street and I’m talking all day.”

Eric Arthur, 44, had a stroke which led to a stutter and problems holding conversations. Eric also
had thoracic cancer and is living with liver problems and epilepsy.

Eric said: “I used to be alone and cry all the time but now I have other people to talk to.”

Having met in the smaller group provided by Guy’s and St Thomas’, Tony and Eric have become more confident and together have attended events run by charity Reconnect. It specialises in larger meeting groups for people with communication problems.

Jonathan Bose, speech and language therapist, Southwark community neuro-rehabilitation team, said: “The groups are aimed at men who are quite private and wouldn’t ordinarily go out meeting people.

“The groups are small so may be less overwhelming for the men and help them to progress to socialising with the wider community in the future.”

“It’s not match making but when we set up the groups we’re thinking about someone’s interests and background.

“The speech and language therapists act as a springboard, suggesting comments and questions and different topics of conversation to highlight shared interests.

“We ask the men to swap phone numbers and encourage them to contact each other in between groups.”

“It’s a great way for them to improve their communication by sharing stories and to practise their new skills in a supportive way.

“It’s fantastic to see how the group have moved on from our original sessions and are now meeting up beyond the group itself.”

Similar groups are planned for Southwark and Lambeth.

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