Aphasia. Communicating Through the Obstacles

You can easily read today’s newspaper, but then struggle to read a child’s book aloud.

For someone with aphasia, this wouldn’t be unusual.

Aphasia is a language disorder that can affect a person’s ability to communicate. It can impair a person’s ability to speak, read, listen, or write – but it does not influence intelligence. Nearly 1 million people in the United States live with aphasia today.

“Aphasia usually is caused by a stroke that damages the parts of the brain that control speech and language,” says Dr. McDougal, Medical Director of Weslaco Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. “But any disease or injury that damages the brain can cause aphasia such as traumatic brain injury, tumors, and neurological disorders.”

Symptoms of Aphasia can range from mild to severe, depending on the location and extent of the brain damage. “Some people with aphasia may have minor problems finding words to communicate complex messages, while others may have lost the ability to read or write,” McDougal says. “But regardless of the severity, most find it frustrating not to be able to communicate like they did before aphasia occurred.”

McDougal says that many people with aphasia are mentally alert, even though their speech may be jumbled, fragmented, or difficult to understand. People with aphasia may have trouble with:

  • Speaking
  • Finding the “right words.”
  • Understanding what others are saying, especially if when it’s said quickly or if it’s a complex thought
  • Reading written materials
  • Spelling or writing sentences
  • According to McDougal, however, aphasia symptoms often can be improved through a collaborative team approach with speech-language pathologists, family members and other professionals such as doctors, nurses, neuropsychologists, and other therapists.

“Aphasia can have a life-long impact on an individual,” he says. “So it’s important to have an ongoing support that allows a person with aphasia to continue practicing communication strategies, explore resources, gain encouragement, and learn how to navigate life best with this disorder.”

At Weslaco Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, the goal of aphasia treatment is to impact a patient’s quality of life by improving confidence to communicate in various situations and to increase willingness to try activities an individual may have once thought her or she could never participate in again.

To best communicate with someone with aphasia, McDougal offers these tips:

Get the person’s attention before you start speaking.

Eliminate background noise. Close windows, shut off televisions or radios, move from a room if other conversations are going on.

Keep it simple. Speak in short, simple sentences, but don’t “talk down” to the individual. He or she is an adult and should be treated as such.

Slow your speech down.

Don’t talk loudly. Keep your voice at a reasonable level unless the individual asks you to speak up.

Be patient. Allow plenty of time for a response. Talk with the individual, not for him or her.

Be creative. Try communicating with writing, gesturing, drawings, facial expressions, and communication tools like an iPad. Encourage the individual to do the same.

Ask “yes” or “no” questions that can be answered simply and without a lot of explanation.

Confirm. Repeat back what he or she is saying.

Ignore or downplay errors. All words don’t need to be produced perfectly to communicate.

By Elsa Quintero

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