June is National Aphasia Awareness Month.
Aphasia is a communication disorder that impairs one’s ability to process language. It is usually the result of a traumatic brain injury or a stroke. Aphasia affects the ability to talk, listen, read and write but cognitive skills and abilities are typically not impaired. People with aphasia struggle with the ability to communicate thoughts that they are thinking and feeling. They know what they want or need to say but because of the injury to the brain, can not put the words together to get that information out. Intellectually, most are at the same level they were prior to the brain trauma.
Difficulties and frustration can abound for both the patient and friends and family that have to deal with this disorder on a daily basis. Imagine knowing what you want to say but being unable to get it out or find the correct words to express yourself. It can be a struggle to say the simplest things not to mention have extended conversations with anyone.
Key tools to help eliminate some of the frustration are things like:
- Consider joining a support group for those with aphasia and their families. Having that support can be critical when going through such a life changing event.
- Keep distractions to a minimum. Allow the patient and the person they are trying to communicate with a quiet space to concentrate on the conversation without other things going on around them.
- Talk to and treat the patient like an adult. Do not speak to them as if they were a child. Don’t finish sentences or fill in words unless they have requested help and don’t pretend to understand them if you do not.
- Don’t shout unless there is also a hearing problem. It will not help.
- Make eye contact when speaking.
- Encourage the use of visual aids if the person is okay with using them. Use hand gestures such as pointing and use pictures to help them more easily discuss common topics or needs. Many picture books are available or working with the individual to make a personalized communication tool can be extremely helpful.
- Include the person in the conversation and check with them to ensure that they are understanding what is being said, but don’t push as this may cause frustration.
- As their confidence increases and they become willing, try taking them out to practice communicating and understanding in real-life situations.
- Provide the person with aphasia with an ID card that explains their speech problem and how best to communicate with them. Also include contact information for family members or caregivers so that you can be reached if help is needed.
Many who suffer from aphasia can and do recover with proper care and with the ability to work with speech and language therapists. Having a strong relationship with those professionals AND family or caregivers that work diligently to help improve the patients ability to communicate is key but it is not an overnight process. It can easily take up to two years and not everyone will fully recover but in most cases, there can be significant improvement.
Contact Brain Buddy, the National Aphasia Association and Medline Plus for more information.
This information is provided courtesy of the Wyoming AgrAbility Project. For more information, visit our website or call toll-free at 866-395-4986.