Taking Time to Understand Aphasia​


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Aphasia can be frightening and frustrating – both for the person who has it and those around them. It is often mistaken for dementia and, indeed has some similarities. But many people with aphasia don't experience the behavioral issues associated with dementia. Their symptoms are primarily related to language, and sometimes cognition.

Aphasia is most often triggered by stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke), but it can be caused by any disease or damage to the parts of the brain that control language, such as brain injury, tumors or neurological disorders. Symptoms vary, but can include:

  • Trouble finding the right words to convey a desired message
  • Difficulty putting words together to make up sentences
  • Substituting unrelated words (i.e. a person saying lamp when they mean bottle)
  • Switching the sounds within words around: marphacy for pharmacy, for example
  • Using made-up words
  • Misunderstanding what others say when they speak quickly or in long sentences
  • Trouble listening when there is background noise or in a group situation
  • Taking figures of speech literally
  • Problems with reading comprehension and writing

In many (but not all) cases, the person with aphasia can comprehend what they are trying to communicate or what's being communicated to them, they just can't get the words right, leading to exasperation and, eventually, possible isolation.

If you are trying to communicate with someone with aphasia, here are a few things to keep in mind, according to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association:

  • Get the person's attention before you start speaking.
  • Maintain eye contact and watch the person's body language and use of gesture.
  • Minimize or eliminate background noise (TV, radio, other people).
  • Keep your voice at a normal level. Do not speak loudly unless the person asks you to do so.
  • Keep communication simple, but adult. Don't "talk down" to the person with aphasia.
  • Simplify your sentence structure and emphasize key words.
  • Reduce your rate of speech.
  • Give the individual time to speak. Resist the urge to finish sentences or offer words.
  • Communicate with drawings, gestures, writing, and facial expressions in addition to speech.
  • Encourage the person to use drawings, gestures, and writing.
  • Use "yes" and "no" questions rather than open-ended questions.
  • Praise all attempts to speak and downplay any errors. Avoid insisting that that each word be produced perfectly.
  • Engage in normal activities whenever possible.
  • Encourage independence and avoid being overprotective.

One of the most important things is to keep the person engaged to avoid the risk of isolation or loneliness.

For more information about improving the lives of older adults and their caregivers, please contact us!

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