Imagine not being able to tell your sweetheart that you love them. Struggling to read a picture book to your grandchild. Having trouble understanding when your friend asks you out for coffee. Failing to write down a phone message.
A stroke or other brain injury can leave people struggling to find their words. This loss of language is called aphasia. Aphasia can make it difficult to speak, understand, read or write, and often causes all of these problems at once.
When people cannot communicate easily, we often think that they are not intelligent. That is simply not true! Aphasia is often described as a problem that masks intelligence – the problem is getting information in and out. Imagine the frustration of knowing what you want to say, but not being able to say it. Add to that the feeling that your family and friends don’t realize that you are still just as intelligent as ever.
Difficulty communicating affects every aspect of life – relationships, work, learning, leisure – it’s all a struggle. The good news is that communication skills can improve – even years after a brain injury. Speech-Language Pathologists can help improve communication skills so people can live life fully; they can also teach family and friends how to support communication.
Here are some tips for talking to people with aphasia:
- Be patient. Give them time to understand and respond. People with aphasia work really hard to understand and express themselves.
- Use simple words and sentences. Slow down your speech a bit, but keep it natural. Reduce distractions, especially background noise like the TV, the radio or appliances.
- Write down main words and use pictures, maps, calendars and other visual supports to improve understanding.
- Make sure they have something to write with so they can write or draw if that helps. Pay attention to their gestures, too.
- If they have trouble answering a question, ask a yes/no question or give a choice of answers.
- Some people prefer to try to find their own words, and some people prefer you to jump in and supply words if they are struggling. Ask them what works better for them.
This article was first published in MedicAlert econnects. You can see it here.
For more information about aphasia, consult my collection of links to information about aphasia.