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Communication Tips for Someone with Aphasia and for Their Loved Ones

In a previous blog, Speech Issues After Brain Injury, I addressed how aphasia affects me, how it can feel on a day-to-day basis and how I am trying to be more accepting of this speech disorder. I received a suggestion by a follower to develop further on ways to cope with aphasia so this blog is all about tips to help communicating as an aphasic person, but it also includes a tips section to help others maximise communications when engaging with a person with aphasia.

What is aphasia?

First of all, I feel that it is important to expand on what aphasia is and on the different types of aphasia. No two brain injuries are exactly the same and I feel the same can be said for aphasia so let's dive into this further before exploring ways to cope with aphasia.

In the most simple terms, aphasia is a speech disorder where the ability to speak or understand language, whether it is written or spoken, is affected. It can be transient, partial or a total loss of the ability to articulate ideas or understand language. Causes of aphasia include brain damage such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, other types of acquired brain injuries (ABI) e.g.: encephalitis, brain tumours, etc. and degenerative neurological disorders.

Speech language therapy can be useful to regain language abilities and minimise the effects of this speech impediment. However, depending on the extent of the damage sustained by the areas of the brain involved in language (such as the Broca and the Wernicke's area) , other times aphasia can lead to a new way of communicating with others.

Living with aphasia? Tips to help you communicate

There will be a period of trial an error and what works best for you may vary depending on the type of aphasia you have but below are a few tips to explore:

  • Limit distractions around you when engaging in conversation (visual, auditive). Turning background noise off can be really helpful.

  • One on one conversations may be easier to manage than group conversations.

  • Remember that conversation is not all about language, it also includes eye contact, facial expressions and gestures. These can be helpful to include when communicating with others.

  • If you can't retrieve a word, try not to get stuck on finding it. Try thinking of another word or explain/describe what it is that you are thinking about.

  • Carry a pen and paper or other assistive devices (photos, aphasia card, etc.) to help communicate. You can use those as an aid when communicating.

  • Allow time for mini brain breaks to give your brain an opportunity to recharge. Fatigue management is a great tool to optimise how your brain will operate.

  • If you are too tired and can't gather your thoughts, it's okay to ask people to get back or address an important conversation at a later time.

  • Check that your understanding of a conversation is correct by rephrasing in your own words.

  • If you haven't already, consider talking to a speech language therapist. They will have many activities up their sleeves to help work on your communication and language skills.

  • Join a support group, they can be really beneficial to make you feel less isolated.

Woman and kids communicating via a made up tin can phone

Aphasia can generate a great deal of frustrations and can feel very isolating. I remember feeling very embarrassed and for a while and keeping to myself seemed much easier. However, this can be very detrimental in the long run to your overall well-being and mental health. Humans need connection so it is important to find ways to manage aphasia. Getting used to a different way of communicating takes time and can be mind boggling, but persevering through this phase of learning to live life with aphasia is essential to ensure you go on living a full and fulfilling life. Be patient with yourself and don't give up.

How can I support someone with aphasia?

There is lots that people in your network can do to support you as well. Let them know how they can best support you or why not share this blog with them. Below are a few key tips to support someone with aphasia:

  • Allow the person more time to put their ideas across.

  • Allow for pauses in conversations so the person has a chance to participate.

  • Unless they ask you to, do not complete their sentences.

  • You can play an active role in helping the person retrieve a word, perhaps tell them the first letter of the word or the first phonetic.

  • Keep your messages short and simple.

  • If the person is accompanied by a support person and the conversation is about them, make sure you talk to them, not the support person.

  • Minimise disruptions when engaging in a conversation (visual and auditive).

  • If you are in a group conversation, be mindful about the pace of the conversation. Don't talk so slow that it makes the person feel dumb, but not so fast that they can't process and follow the flow of the conversation.

  • Think about asking yes or no questions.

Remember that aphasia is not a loss of intellect, it is a speech disorder. Talking down to a person with aphasia is not an empowering strategy. Remain respectful in your interactions and keep them involved in conversations and social events. Aphasia can be very isolating on its own so maximising opportunities for interactions is supportive of the person's overall well-being.

Remember it is a team effort as communication always involves at least 2 parties. We can all play an active role in making sure that the barriers that come in pair with aphasia are minimised.

Other aphasia tips? Please share them in the comment section.

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