What is Aphasia?
Imagine if in this next instant you were unable to talk to your family, read a newspaper, write a check, or understand what someone was saying to you. Aphasia is a communication impairment caused by brain damage typically resulting from a stroke, and affects more than 2,000,000 individuals in the United States. While intelligence remains intact, the ability to speak, comprehend, read, and write may be lost or reduced.
Although there are more people in the United States with aphasia than muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis, few people have ever heard of this disorder. Communication is an essential life skill that is woven into all aspects of daily living. Aphasia causes a profound impact on the lives of stroke survivors. Besides causing many individuals to be cut off from their immediate family and friends, aphasia often leads to total isolation and disenfranchisement from the community at large.
Aphasia affects both the ability to express oneself through speech and writing, and to understand the speech and writing of others. Aphasia changes the way in which we communicate with those people most important to us: family, friends, and co-workers.
No two people with aphasia are alike with respect to the severity of their impairments, their 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.
Suggestions for Communicating with a Person who has Aphasia
- Talk to the person with aphasia as an adult and not as a child. Avoid talking down to the person.
- During conversation, minimize or eliminate background noise (i.e., television, radio, other people) whenever possible.
- Make sure you have the person’s attention before communicating.
- Encourage and use all modes of communication (speech, writing, drawing, yes/no responses, written choices, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions).
- Give the person with aphasia time to talk and time to respond.
- Accept all communication attempts (speech, gesture, writing, drawing) rather than demanding speech. Downplay errors and avoid frequent corrections. Avoid insisting that each word be produced perfectly.
- Keep your own communication simple, but adult. Simplify sentence structure and reduce your own rate of speech by inserting pauses between words and phrases. Keep your voice at a normal volume level.
- Use gestures and visual aids whenever possible. Repeat a statement when necessary.
- Encourage people with aphasia to be as independent as possible. Avoid being overprotective or speaking for the person except when asked to do so.
- Whenever possible, continue normal home activities (e.g., dinner with family, company, going out). Do not shield people with aphasia from family or friends or ignore them in a group conversation. Try to involve people with aphasia in family decision-making as much as possible.
Adapted from the National Aphasia Association