When I mention aphasia to friends and family, most have heard of it, but don't know what it is. Unless a loved one or a close friend has been affected by this, people usually don't know what it means to have aphasia. Imagine knowing what you want to say but can't say it? It can become too difficult to formulate a word or string a few words together to form a sentence. Or you might think you are speaking perfectly, but others around you can't understand you, except a few words or partial words. Sometimes, a word can't be expressed, but it can be sung, or a word can't be spoken but it can be written.
According to the National Aphasia Association, "Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person's ability to process language but does not affect intelligence. Aphasia impairs the ability to speak and understand others." There are over 2,000,000 Americans affected by aphasia.
Aphasia is most often caused by a stroke. However, any type of brain damage can cause aphasia, such as brain tumors, Primary Progressive Aphasia (a type of dementia affecting a person's language), traumatic brain injury, or other brain disorders.
Aphasia is a complex language disorder that varies in severity and type. Each classification of aphasia brings a whole host of issues a person may face.
A team approach
with the person with aphasia, neurologist, primary care physician, PT, OT, SLP and family members is essential. The individual with aphasia needs to receive speech-language therapy by a licensed speech language pathologist (SLP). SLP's are highely skilled in the assessment and treatment of aphasia. We work togethers with the individual to set personalized and realistic evidence-based goals to target.
As mentioned above, aphasia is not a loss of intelligence but a loss of language. While communicating with a person with aphasia, it can be helpful to remember that. Here are some strategies to help make communication as successful as possible:
Speak slowly and provide extra time
Ask simple questions and provide choices (i.e. do you want coffee or tea vs. what do you want to drink?)
Reduce background noise and distractions
Smaller groups or one-on-one will be easier than larger groups or gatherings
Encourage the use of "total communication," such as facial expressions, pointing, gestures.
Always have a piece of paper and pencil around; if a word can't be spoken, it might be able to be written, a first letter written, or a simple picture drawn.
Allow extra time to process messages and formulate thoughts to respond.
Use pictures, symbols, and objects when possible.
Singing can sometimes help the word come out... so sing if possible!
Unless the person with aphasia expresses that they want you to finish a sentences, try not to finish for them.
Keep topics, sentences, and tone of voice adult, not childlike, but just allow for more time.
Realize that just talking and listening takes more effort, and a person with aphasia might get tired easily.
Pay attention to the tone of voice, intonation, and facial expression. If someone is having trouble getting the exact words, those other qualities might help the listener understand what they want to express.
Try for "yes" or "no," thumbs up/down, and point to pictures of "yes" or "no".
Do you have a friend or family member with aphasia? If so, what have you found to be helpful? Please share.
If you have questions, please reach out to a local speech pathologist or your doctor. The National Aphasia Association (www.aphasia.org) and The American Speech and Hearing Association ASHA (www.asha.org) are helpful sources use to write this article.
Debra Holtzman M.S. CCC-SLP wrote this article, and it was published in Mendham Neighbors Magazine, Best Version Media, November, 2022. Debra is a licensed speech-language pathologist based out of the Mendham-Morristown area of NJ. She is the founder of Himark Speech and Voice. For more information, please visit www.himarkspeechandvoice.com