Joe Biden

Beau Biden and Aphasia

Joe Biden is a champion for aphasia awareness. His new memoir, Promise Me Dad, released November 14th, covers a year in the life of the former Vice President. While balancing the duties of his office, his attention was also on his son and Beau’s brain tumour diagnosis months earlier.

Vanity Fair recently provided an excerpt from the book, one that features Beau’s aphasia.

Beau Biden and Aphasia

It’s Thanksgiving, 2014, and the Biden clan has gathered to celebrate the holiday together. Joe Biden describes Beau’s first day on Nantucket:

He was easily fatigued and increasingly shy about interacting with people. He was losing feeling in his right hand, and it wasn’t strong enough for a good firm handshake, and he had been wrestling with a condition called aphasia. Radiation and chemotherapy had done some damage to the part of his brain that controlled the ability to name things. He had been going from his home in Wilmington to Philadelphia most days for an hour of physical therapy and occupational therapy and then an hour of speech therapy, all above and beyond his regular chemo treatments.

A brain tumour causes Beau’s aphasia. He uses circumlocution, speaking around the missing word, in order to convey his thoughts:

It was slow going, but he never showed frustration. Nobody in the family, or among his friends, or among his staff at the attorney general’s office, saw him angry or down. It just took a little patience, and a few extra words when he couldn’t recall “mayor”: “You know, that guy who runs the city.” Or “dinner roll”: “Pass the, you know, the brown thing you put the butter on.”

It’s a bittersweet excerpt, one that ends with Biden’s wish that Thanksgiving that we now know didn’t come true. Beau died in May of 2015, almost halfway between that last Thanksgiving and the one that would never come.

Biden’s Book

Biden’s book is being released this month, and we’ll be looking at it as a future online book club selection. The title comes from Beau’s request to his father: “Promise me, Dad. Give me your word that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right.” It’s a promise difficult to keep. Biden tackles the aftermath of losing his son, continuing his public work.

The book’s description addresses the fact that aphasia knows no boundaries. It can affect anyone — from a doctor to a school teacher to the son of the Vice President.

This is a book written not just by the vice president, but by a father, grandfather, friend, and husband. Promise Me, Dad is a story of how family and friendships sustain us and how hope, purpose, and action can guide us through the pain of personal loss into the light of a new future.

Image: Melissa Ford

Comments

9 Comments

  • Laurie Mindnich
    November 2, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    So comforting to read all these stories. I have a sister stricken with aphasia and it is a disease that is hard to explain and often misunderstood. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. 💖

  • Jane Coe
    November 9, 2017 at 10:27 am

    My Mother has been diagnosed with dementia, but thankfully, the progression has been relatively slow and we just found a most wonderful caregiver, which has been the key to helping the whole family and keeping Mom at home. Truthfully, doctors have not been of much help. I am so grateful to VP Biden for writing this book, and can’t wait until the 14th to buy and read it and share with my family. It is the hardest thing to watch a loved one struggle with this insidious disease.

  • Linda
    November 15, 2017 at 9:29 am

    My husband has Primary Progressive Aphasia, affecting Language and Communication. We have found that the I-Phone can play an important part in our communication. When we go to Costco, for example, I can show him a carton of Strawberries on the IPhone and ask him to get that for me and he can, because Visuals will work, whereas Words do not.

  • Patricia Haynes
    November 15, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Most of the time my speech is on off, then all of asunden I will talk as though I have had a bottle wine, probably because my husband ho has Alzheimer’s 4th year, thought I was asleep so didn’t ring for a ambulance ,two hours had gone. I feel fine but my confidence has gone.

    Feel better now I have had my moan.

    Thank you ,

    Patricia.

  • Robert Fields
    November 15, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    My stroke happened in 2006, 2 weeks before Christmas, why me? My sudden stroke left me battling aphasia. I’m lost, sad, I lost my 20 years company.

    I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I started to getting back on my feet. As part of my recovery, I returned to the journals I had kept for many years to find the same inspiration that had motivated me throughout my life. Through these meditations, I came to understand The Power of I Believe.

    Now, I am an author (The Power of I Believe, a book of motivation, encouragement and inspirational thoughts after a stroke, a Christian-themed book written to help stroke survivors and others touched by a disability regain their faith and strength as they recover and move forward with their lives & Motivational Speaker for post-stroke recovery and education, training, leadership, religion.

    I was asked to set up a table to promo my book at, National Aphasia Awareness Month, 15th annual Aphasia day, Saturday, June 17, 2017, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, formerly known as Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, I also, I receive an Endorsement of my book by Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

    My book made to the shelf of books the Library of Congress (by OPENLIBRARY, Robert Lee Fields, your profile – recent activity)… The Power of I Believe, a Christian-themed book written to help stroke survivors. His book is a combination of journal entries, quotes, and bible verses.

  • Donna Peterson
    November 15, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    I am very grateful to all who share their stories. Aphasia affects the entire family. As a caregiver I have often felt like I was being buried alive. I could only imagine how my husband who has fluent aphasia felt. In the beginning, he couldn’t tell me. Eight years later he is doing so much better. This is all do to my husband’s hard work, a creative Speech Therapist and a group of great friends and family. I look forward to reading this book.

  • Karin Olsen Campia
    November 15, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    I believe aphasia is a condition, not a disease, which is caused by specific trauma to the brain. It can happen to anyone at any age. Aphasia can happen as a result of a stroke, brain tumor, a blow to the head from playing football, etc, a car accident or a fall from a bike, or from a bullit to the head, as in the case of Gabby Giffords.

    My husband experienced a stroke in March 2012 from a blocked carotid artery which deprived part of his brain from receiving blood and oxygen. As a result, he had difficulty functioning normally on his right side. He steadily improved with therapy and never gave up. His speech did improve with lots of practice but the most important thing was that he did not lose his intelligence, only the ability to speak normally. Many friends and family did not understand that he was the same person inside.

    I look forward to reading Joe Biden’s book with great interest. Aphasia needs to be better understood by everyone as it can happen to anyone.

  • Susan scerbo
    November 16, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    My 36 yr old son had a car accident while driving home from work. His 2 strokes left him with aphasia. He’s a blessing but struggles patiently every moment of every day with aphasia. Fortunately he can write, play golf, read, play pool but communication is rough. He’s happy, very mobile and we can’t imagine what the bidens’ are having to endure with their loss.
    This son did have a brain tumor 5 years ago but it was resected successfully. And 2 other brain surgeries to remove seizure focus from infant HIB meningitis.
    Simply- I wish it was me.
    Each day brings a speck of hope, a morsel of peace and a new normal.

  • Stewart Hayward
    November 18, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Hi . A friend of mine has just been diagnosed with primary Progresive Aphasia. Semantic Dementia. She was a teacher for 33 years and has been retired for the past 13 years. She is 66 years old and had shown signs of memory loss but thought it was due to ageing. However this is not the case. It has been some help reading the comments .

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