As with any cafe, the coffee pot was on and there was friendly conversation around the table.
But some people spoke haltingly. Others stopped from time to time, struggling to recall the correct word to use. Two people said only a few words but used a Lingraphica, a tablet-size device that they used to point to pictures of words that they were trying to say.
No matter. The participants were communicating with each other, everyone was patient and there were a lot of smiles during their one-hour visit on March 23.
And, unlike most cafes, this one was free.
Conversation Cafe is for Central Illinois adults with aphasia who would benefit from weekly conversation with other adults with the same condition. The cafe happens 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Fridays during the fall and spring semester in a third floor meeting room in Illinois State University’s Fairchild Hall.
“Aphasia is a language disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate,” said Rene McClure, the Conversation Cafe facilitator who is a speech-language pathologist and clinical educator in ISU’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Department. That department sponsors the cafe.
“My goal is to be able to provide an opportunity for people living with aphasia to feel safe and free from embarrassment that can come with aphasia,” McClure said.
Aphasia happens when a person has brain damage. Typically that happens when a stroke causes damage to the left side of the brain that controls language skills.
Paul Enchelmayer, 71, of Normal, had a stroke in November 2012 and it took him a year to relearn the alphabet and to feel comfortable going out in public.
He speaks clearly but occasionally can’t remember words and estimates that he’s lost a third of his vocabulary. When he is reading, he needs to sound out words that are more than two syllables; he struggles reading aloud in public; and he has lost his ability to speak German, his second language.
“I made a conscious decision that either I would struggle with it and fight it off or enjoy it and do the best I can,” Enchelmayer said. “I treat it as an adventure rather than struggle.”
Gerda Koch, 85, of Normal, did not have a stroke but began to experience aphasia symptoms in summer 2016.
“I started slurring my words so they sent me to a neurologist,” said Koch, who was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia. “I can think. I can remember. I can read. But I can’t get the words out.”
Koch, who speaks haltingly and goes to speech therapy, said. “I’m learning to slow down and get the words out so people can understand me.”
“It’s frustrating,” Koch said. “I tell myself all the things I can do (such as exercise) and this is the only thing I can’t do.”