After six years of working with stroke survivors in a variety of settings, I discovered a common thread. Many patients reached a point in their rehabilitation where they wanted to continue to work on areas of difficulty, but not in a formal setting. They craved participating in the same leisure activities they had before their stroke, but did not want to struggle to do so.
As an avid reader and book club member myself, in combination with my background as a speech-language pathologist, I know how reading promotes self-esteem, cognitive stimulation, and provides an outlet for general enjoyment and pleasure. As part of my private practice in Rockville, MD, I developed a modified book club specifically designed for individuals with aphasia who have difficulties reading, writing, talking, and/or listening. The book club is marketed to patients receiving treatment at local rehabilitation hospitals and outpatient centers. It is often introduced to patients seeking additional therapy within the community or to patients released from therapy for community re-entry. Patients are billed a nominal charge for each monthly book club. This cost includes the study guide, which provides a month-long self-study packet. Participants may independently submit their book club invoices for reimbursement by insurance carriers.
The "Simon Says–Reading for Life" book clubs meet approximately once a month and are led by a licensed and certified SLP. The book clubs comprise four or five participants who read at approximately the same level. Novels are selected for a number of reasons, including a recent release, use of concrete language, a reasonable length, or a member's choice. Each month, participants receive the book selection along with a study guide to use while reading. Participants use the study guides in different ways: Some take notes to remember information; some answer the study guide questions completely to practice writing skills; and those who have more difficulty writing select answers from multiple choices. Everyone uses these study guides during the group discussions to aid communication. We meet for 90 minutes to review the study guide, discuss major themes, and rate the book.
In the year and a half since the "Reading for Life" concept was born, participants have made tremendous gains in speech, language, and social skills. Some participants have progressed from reading short stories to reading novels. The group provides an alternative approach to therapy. Participants in the "Reading for Life" groups range in age from 32 to 81 years old. They present with mild to moderate-severe aphasia, and have different backgrounds, ethnicities, careers, and caregiver involvement. The differences help to create interesting and unique conversation each time we meet. But the similarities of stroke survival and the quest for improving their skills create an environment that is patient, supportive, and motivating.
The future of the "Reading for Life" book clubs looks promising. Even though the book clubs are new, our active membership continues to grow. Two of our clubs have consistently met for a year and a half, while two other clubs are eager for additional members to join. We are hoping to publish the "Reading for Life" study guides so that other SLPs can provide their patients with this treatment tool. One group has even applied to be the selected book club on "Today" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to demonstrate that stroke survivors are "Reading for Life."