June is National Aphasia Month and we thought we’d take a look at what it is and how it can affect not only the person who has it but also their family caregivers. Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the ability to speak, to understand the speech of others, and even possibly the ability to read or write. Aphasia is always due to a brain injury–most commonly from a stroke, particularly in older individuals. However, brain injuries resulting in Aphasia may also arise from head trauma, brain tumors, or infections.
The affects of Aphasia are varied depending on the circumstances of each individual. It can be so severe it makes communication with the patient almost impossible, or it can be very mild. It may affect mainly a single aspect of language use, such as the ability to retrieve the names of objects, or the ability to put words together into sentences. Most commonly, multiple aspects of communication are impaired.
The impact of Aphasia on relationships may be profound, or only slight. Patience is key when communicating with a loved one struggling with Aphasia. Linda Kemper, speech therapist for Freudenthal, explains, “Imagine waking up one day and not being able to form sentences. They’re scared because they don’t know what’s happening to them and why they can’t find the words they want.” As a family caregiver it’s important to meet your loved one where they are at and do everything you can to help them communicate including using pictures and even going back to the basics of how to read and write depending on the severity of their situations.
No two people with Aphasia are alike with respect to severity, former speech and language skills, or personality. But in all cases it is essential for the person to communicate as successfully as possible from the very beginning of the recovery process. Here are some suggestions to help communicate with a person with Aphasia:
Make sure you have the person’s attention before you start.
Minimize or eliminate background noise (TV, radio, other people).
Keep your own voice at a normal level, unless the person has indicated otherwise.
Keep communication simple, but adult. Simplify your own sentence structure and reduce your rate of speech. Emphasize key words. Don’t “talk down” to the person with Aphasia.
Give them time to speak. Resist the urge to finish sentences or offer words.
Communicate with drawings, gestures, writing and facial expressions in addition to speech.
Confirm that you are communicating successfully with “yes” and “no” questions.
Praise all attempts to speak and downplay any errors. Avoid insisting that that each word be produced perfectly.
Engage in normal activities whenever possible. Do not shield people with Aphasia from family or ignore them in a group conversation. Rather, try to involve them in family decision-making as much as possible, but avoid burdening them with day to day details.
Encourage independence and avoid being overprotective.
As a family caregiver it’s always important to remember that you have a right to choose when it comes to getting care for your loved ones. It’s also important to reach out for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to call 816-676-8050 if you have any questions about getting care for you loved ones or even yourself.