6 tips for talking to people with Aphasia

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.

If you or someone you love has difficulty speaking, understanding, reading, writing or swallowing, please consult a Speech-Language Pathologist.

SpeechWorks Inc. offers private Speech-Language Pathology services for children and adults in Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, and Nunavut.

Aphasia Links

Here are the most useful links I have found about aphasia:

This lesson called Aphasia: The disorder that makes you lose your words – Susan Wortman-Jutt includes an excellent little video, a quiz, additional resources and a guided discussion.

Patience, Listening and Communicating with Aphasia Patients is an 18-minute video produced by the Richmond, Va Aphasia Group. It’s a great introduction to aphasia.

Enabling fluent speech in non-fluent aphasia is a TedX talk about a treatment for non-fluent aphasia. This is one of the treatments that we use at SpeechWorks Inc.

An Aphasiologist Has a Stroke is another extremely interesting TedX talk.

Association International Aphasie: learn about Aphasia in many languages, including French.

National Aphasia Association (U.S.A.): information about Aphasia for people with aphasia, caregivers, and professionals. The NAA has an Aphasia Quiz, a good tool for educating people about aphasia.

Aphasia Institute (Canada): information about aphasia from a community-based centre

Aphasia Corneraphasia simulations – helping family and friends, and people working with people with aphasia, to understand how aphasia feels;  Aphasia Corner also has a community-written blog

Aphasia Recovery Connection: online support group connecting people with aphasia, caregivers, and professionals – their FaceBook page quickly addresses questions about aphasia from lots of perspectives

Stroke in Young Adults: HSF Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery’s resource guide  has information for young adults, but much of it applies to all ages.

Tactus Therapy develops speech therapy apps for adults, and has lots of information and a lively blog about post-stroke communication disorders.

Lingraphica: “The Aphasia Company,” providing technology-based help for aphasia; their website provides information about aphasia

TalkPath: the direct link to Lingraphica’s online exercices for aphasia and cognitive impairment; these exercises are also available as an app.

Aphasia Therapy Online: Free therapy exercises with a variety of tasks for listening, reading, spelling and naming. Settings can be changed for Australian, UK and USA English.

Constant Therapy has apps for adults with communication disorders.

Virtual Speech Centre has a variety of apps to work on speech and language. Their aphasia apps are here.

Adult Learning Activities is a free website to work on reading by the California Distance Learning Project. It has lots of articles and exercises to work on comprehension, vocabulary, spelling and writing.

Learning Fundamentals Reading section has exercises to work on reading comprehension.

News in Levels: News presented in simplified English at three different levels of difficulty.

Merriam Webster: The dictionary’s website has lots of games to work on words!

A Workbook for Aphasia by Cat R. Kennedy of Cleveland State University is full of exercises for words, sentence structure, comprehension, general knowledge, memory, and functional skills, and it’s free!

CALM Speech Therapy has adult speech therapy products, some for free and some for purchase.