Two recent events are drawing considerable attention to communication disorders. While the awareness is greatly needed, the approaches are less than ideal. In both cases, we learn that alcohol and strokes don’t mix.

Press Conference Gaffe

putin1Russian president Vladimir Putin made a mistake in a recent press conference. He joked that a reporter was drunk after hearing the reporter’s slow style of speaking. It turns out that the reporter was not drunk, but a survivor of multiple strokes.

Being mistaken for being drunk is, unfortunately, a common experience for stroke survivors.

When someone suffers a stroke, the areas of the brain that control movement are often damaged. This can cause slower or slurred speech, among other challenges. When people drink alcohol, however, it slows their neural pathways by releasing inhibitory neurotransmitters and suppressing excitatory ones. Thoughts, speech, and movement all become slower and less coordinated.

While the outcomes may be similar in appearance, the causes are very different.

Stroke survivors also do not have a choice to speak the way they do—and often report feeling embarrassed about how they sound. They fear people will judge them to be less intelligent than they are, or assume that they are drunk. Some stroke survivors carry cards with them that explain their medical condition to show to police and others to stop misconceptions.

Stroke isn’t the only disorder that is confused with drunkenness; people with Parkinson’s disease often have their ataxic movements confused with the uncoordinated movements of intoxication. Read more personal experiences of stroke survivors being accused of drunkenness.

Assuming that someone whose speech is impaired is drunk is, at best, uninformed, and at worst, rude. You can make sure you won’t make the same mistake as Putin by learning more about the variations in speech you might hear by reading this post: Understanding Communication Challenges Facing Stroke Survivors.

A Beer Called Aphasia

Another news story this week also started a controversy in the world of speech pathology and aphasia.

On a Facebook group for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) who work in adult rehab, a member posted a picture of a microbrewery beer label. The brewery was releasing an ale called Aphasia. The label featured a few garbage cans and the tagline “Some things are better left unsaid.”

Aphasia-Label-Artwork

The tagline could be seen as misplaced effort to evoke the feeling of enjoying a pint with a friend in silence, or it could be taken as hurtful, since stroke survivors with aphasia would love nothing more than to be able to say whatever is on their minds.

Aphasia is a communication disorder often caused by stroke that impairs someone’s ability to produce or comprehend language—or both.

A quick scan of the brewery’s website showed no evidence that the beer was associated with any advocacy campaigns or efforts to raise funds or awareness of aphasia.

The members of the Facebook group reached out to the brewery to express their concern that Aphasia is not an appropriate name for a beer. Phone calls, Facebook page postings, and emails conveyed messages from SLPs offering education about aphasia and the devastating impact it has on people, as well as the incongruity of naming a beer after a medical disorder. Would you name a beer after Parkinson’s or cancer?

One SLP who called the brewery reported the staff member on the phone was unaware it was a real disorder and would tell the manager right away.

Within hours, the brewery issued a heartfelt apology and announced both a rebranding of the beer and a $2500 donation to the state speech & hearing association. Most people were very satisfied with this outcome, calling it a “classy move.”

It was an impressive display of the change people can effect through social media and a nice example of corporate responsibility from what was presumably a genuine misunderstanding.

With any controversy, there are many opinions. Many fans of the brewery did not understand why the name was upsetting. Some SLPs thought it was a fine name for a beer and that the outrage was unnecessary or that the group was overprotective of people with aphasia.

Others believe it’s a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness that will be lost when the name changes. A group of people with aphasia and their caregivers were polled online, and the majority did not like the concept. Some, however, would very much like to see a beer called Aphasia.

The question remains: is a beer called “aphasia” a good opportunity to raise awareness? Should the beer keep the name but add information about the communication disorder to the label?

One young person with aphasia wrote, “I was hit by a drunk driver, so….no.” The wife of a man with aphasia commented, “We already have an uphill battle trying to convince the public that people with aphasia are not drunk.”

A stroke survivor shared, “I can’t drink alcohol, doesn’t agree with my brain struggle, so no, but I’m not a hater, so doesn’t bother me if others drink.” Another member of the Aphasia Recovery Connection posted, “Odd idea!!! Can’t drink but if could WHY using alcohol raise awareness serious complex condition? Bizarre!”

Advocacy for aphasia and other communication disorders is sorely needed, but it remains unclear the best way to go about it when unrelated brands are involved.


What do you think? Are people being too uptight about a harmless name? Is it better to keep the name and focus on raising awareness? Or do beer and aphasia need to stay away from each other to dispel the misconceptions of stroke survivors sounding drunk? What would be a good product to name “aphasia” to help raise awareness?

UPDATE: The money donated by Short’s Brewing Company was used to help make an aphasia awareness video in 2-minute and 6-minute versions. Nice work!