Sea to Sky Aphasia Camp provides a
three-day retreat to 30 campers and their family members at Zajac Ranch in
Mission, B.C. (photo from Sea to Sky)
Aphasia is a communication impairment most
often caused by stroke, but it can also be due to any brain injury. It impacts
a person’s ability to speak, understand spoken language, and the ability to
read and to write.
“It’s important to understand that, while
communication is impaired, a person’s cognitive function is not,” said Eavan
Sinden, a speech-language pathologist at the University of British Columbia,
about the condition. “This is something Sea to Sky [Aphasia] Camp focuses on –
that we can create a communicably accessible and supportive environment, while
acknowledging the inherent competence.
“But, there are some prominent researchers in
the world of aphasia now who are looking at expanding on [the] definition …
so that it would include the impact of aphasia on a person’s life – the impact
it has on a person’s identity, on a person’s ability to participate in social
events, their ability to work, their ability to be in the role that we assume
… mom, dad, daughter, whatever … changing the definition a little bit to
include that impact.”
Out of the 100,000 people in Canada who will
suffer a stroke this year, 35% of stroke survivors will live with some form of
aphasia. Further to that, 62% of these survivors will experience depression after
Sinden teaches and does research at UBC’s
School of Audiology and Speech Sciences. One of her primary roles within the
school is to coordinate the Sea to Sky camp every September. This fall, it will
run Sept. 20-22.
The camp, which is entering its 10th year,
provides a three-day retreat to 30 campers and their family members at Zajac
Ranch in Mission, B.C., in a facility specifically designed for people with
unique abilities and challenges.
To make the camp a reality, Sinden and UBC
partner with Douglas College’s therapeutic recreation program, and March of
Dimes Canada. “There’s a lot of support for this camp,” Sinden told the Independent.
“In addition to being a camp for people with aphasia, those 30 campers come
with family or friends, if they choose.
“We also have 36 healthcare-professional
students who come for the weekend to learn a little bit more about what it’s
like to live with a chronic impairment, such as aphasia. They are
speech-language pathology students, audiology students, therapeutic-recreation
students, nursing, pharmacy, dental hygiene and physiotherapy – a whole range
of care students who opt, every year, to do this. Without them, we wouldn’t
have enough support. It’s really great to have these layers of partnerships in the
community. They really help create that communicably accessible environment.”
There is also a group of clinical leads,
healthcare professionals in the community, who have been working with aphasia
and who volunteer the weekend of the camp to work with the students.
A disturbing trend, according to Sinden, is
that aphasia is affecting younger and younger people. “This is the frightening
part,” she said. “We have people anywhere from 30 or 31 to their late 70s or
early 80s, a real range, but the majority are in their 50s and 60s. It’s no
longer something you’d think just happens to older people. The Heart and Stroke
Foundation has written quite a few reports on that.”
At Sea to Sky, participants can do yoga,
horseback riding, cooking, singing, dancing, campfires, basketball, swimming,
arts and woodwork.
“A lot of our activities are run by people with
aphasia, as well, who have come to the camp for many years and are now leaders
in that way,” said Sinden. “The students also take a role in working on some of
All accommodations and meals are included in
the $250 cost for the weekend.
“It’s a really terrific way for people with
aphasia in the community to come together, socialize and be with people who’ve
been on similar journeys,” said Sinden. “Aphasia can be very isolating, so it
can be incredibly powerful to meet people with whom you have a shared
experience, who you can see that idea of, ‘OK, I can do this.’ Maybe, if I’m a
little earlier on in my recovery and I see someone 10 years post doing
something that I didn’t think would be possible … that can open up
“We have a great core group who come year after
year,” she added. “But, I have to say, especially this year, we had quite a
number of newcomers, which is exciting. We’re always trying to extend our reach
and support the community of people with aphasia.”
While the number of people suffering from
aphasia has increased, the camp has been able to accommodate the demand – but
just barely, due to space and funding.
“We’re fortunate in that March of Dimes, UBC
and Douglas College support us with grants, but every year we hope to still get
the funds,” said Sinden. “It’s never a sure thing. There’s a huge need for more
community support. If we could take more campers or run more camps, we would
also be happy to do that and it’s something on our wish list.”
This year, Sinden is starting a campaign called
Sponsor a Camper, asking donors to give $250 so someone can attend the camp.
Other support is raised via the Stroke Recovery Association of British Columbia
and Fraser Health.
For more information, visit srabc.ca or
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.