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Get Involved > Robert's Story

Robert’s Story

Robert Baldock, 56, lives in North Berwick, East Lothian. He had a stroke in March 2017 and had to give up his role as an IT specialist. He has aphasia and verbal dyspraxia.

“Even with a background in advanced mathematics, I could no longer recognise numbers to tell the time or operate a microwave.”

For a man as passionate about sound and music as Robert Baldock is, there is a particular cruelty in what happened to him after a stroke.

For years, the greatest passion of the 56-year-old’s life has been his radio show and podcast, Project Moonbase. But today Robert struggles to say anything at all.

He now lives with verbal dyspraxia and acute aphasia, two conditions that mean he has been left little verbal communication.

Robert, who lives in North Berwick, East Lothian, wrote of his experience: “Everything changed after my stroke. Having spent a life honing my digital skills, I struggled at first to turn the sound up on a TV.

“Even with a background in advanced mathematics, I could no longer recognise numbers to tell the time or operate a microwave. In my podcast, we’d explore the outer realms of the musical multiverse, old and new technologies and science. Now I struggle to articulate more than a single word at best.”

Aphasia is a condition that affects around a third of all stroke survivors. The condition impacts an individual’s ability to speak and understand what others are saying. Their ability to read and write can also be affected.

In verbal dyspraxia, the brain can no longer send the right message to Robert’s mouth so he cannot put his muscles in position to speak.

For Robert, who has had to give up his role as an IT specialist, the key to recovering some kind of voice will come in the digital world in which he has long been immersed.

With the help of the Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland stroke nurse service, he applied for a grant to buy a new iPad and assistive ware. He uses an app on the iPad to speak during the weekly aphasia support group meetings online.

But the game-changer might be the SpeakUnique project, which originated at Edinburgh University, and is a state-of-the-art voice banking technology. This allows the creation of high-quality, personalised synthetic voices.

Sharon Quigley is a close friend of Robert, who has been supporting him since his stroke. Unlike many people, for whom aphasia is unknown, Sharon’s own mother also suffered from aphasia, which she says profoundly affected her own life and informed her artwork.

She says: “Robert has a golden voice that has been preserved through recordings, podcasts and radio shows. SpeakUnique will give us a chance to hear a version of the real Robert by creating a voice blend.

“The aphasia support group has allowed Robert to reconnect with people, especially people who are sharing very specific experiences.

“When we met Fiona Dickens, who is a CHSS volunteer and herself a stroke survivor with aphasia, I could have cried with relief. We finally saw someone who moves and sounds like Robert – it was a very emotional moment. She was able to give Robert some great advice and also introduce him to useful travel tips and aides to help around the house. We’re so grateful to her.”

For Robert, greater support for those with aphasia and better information on the condition is essential. But so too is improving others’ understanding of aphasia.

“It’s often non-aphasic people who bring their own frustrations and impatience to communication.”

He writes: “People regularly comment on how ‘frustrating’ aphasia must be and yes, it is. However, it’s often non-aphasic people who bring their own frustrations and impatience to communication.

For someone living with aphasia, small things in daily life, which may seem inconsequential to most, become very challenging. So discovering the Passenger Assistance App and finding out that I could a book my own taxis via email made a huge difference to my sense of independence. I’m no longer reliant on someone to do this for me.”

He has other simple guidelines for those with the condition: “Always carry a notebook and don’t be afraid to use it! Get people to write things down. This makes relating important information from meetings and visits much easier.

“Most experts agree that between 70 to 93 percent of all communication is non-verbal. It’s good to remember that if all else fails, just make a face!”

Jackie Slater is the Lead Co-ordinator for Lothian with CHSS. She joins the aphasia support group regularly.

She says: “Tech and kit certainly has a part to play in helping those with aphasia recover some communication. But we have to have solutions for those who don’t have the technology or the cognitive ability to use an iPad or join a Zoom call.

“Speech therapy is crucial, and more resources in talking and language therapy would help.

“Robert is a great character to have in the group. He’s been first with the speech app and showing the others how it works. They all gee each other along, and it’s so good to see how much joy they get from the group.”

Help make sure people living with aphasia in Scotland are getting the vital support they need to stay connected.

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