Stroke can cause many changes, including how people communicate. Aphasia, a language disorder that may occur, can affect how your loved one understands, speaks, reads, and writes. Learning to communicate with someone who experiences aphasia can have a positive impact on their recovery. Communicating with them begins by better understanding what is taking place, explains Meredith Nye, CCC-SLP, MS, a Duke speech pathologist.
“Aphasia doesn’t impact a person’s hearing or thinking skills like memory. Rather," she says, "people with aphasia may use the wrong word, like 'mother' instead of 'daughter' or 'yes' instead of 'no.' Or they may make up words, unintentionally repeat themselves, or only be able to say a few words or sounds when they are trying to communicate. Or they may have a hard time understanding what you're saying."
How to Communicate with Someone with Aphasia
Speech pathologists can help relatives and friends work with a loved one who has aphasia and find ways to communicate effectively. Nye recommends keeping these tips in mind:
Focus Their Attention
If possible, move your conversation to a quiet, well-lit room where there are no distractions. Turn off background disturbances like the radio or television. It’s best to limit conversation to one or two people at the most.
Use All Forms of Nonverbal Communication
Rather than rely on words, use a wave to say “goodbye” or “hello.” Thumbs up is the universal sign for “good job” or “yes.” Your facial expressions can show anger, sadness, or elation. Exchange written or drawn messages.
Sometimes it takes longer for a person with aphasia to communicate. Count to 10 slowly before providing help or choices. Many times it takes that much time or longer for them to get their message out.
Confirm Your Understanding
After an exchange with your loved one, make sure you understand by verbally repeating or by writing a synopsis of the message’s key points. If they wanted coffee, write “coffee” and draw a picture. Use intonation in your voice when you ask, “You want coffee?” and point to the picture. Have them answer yes or no.
Computers, smart devices, and other forms of technology can help people with aphasia return to hobbies, read, and converse with others. Icons and emojis can enhance email and social media conversations. Encourage your loved one to listen to audio books in addition to reading the print versions. Speech pathologists can also recommend programs that enable your loved one to use word-prediction or speech-to-text capabilities.
Speech pathologists can help people make progress even years after they are originally diagnosed with aphasia, says Nye. “We can help them focus on their strengths and find ways to better engage with family and their community. We can offer tools to help them socialize and have a better quality of life through communication.”
Find Aphasia Support Groups
There are many groups and resources in the community to support people with aphasia and their families. Nye says a speech-language pathologist is your best resource for identifying groups in your area.