Fred’s experience is an everyday occurrence for people with aphasia. Strangers, friends, even family struggle to bridge the communication barriers caused by aphasia. Communication is critical to almost everything we do. It is used for social interactions, which give us emotional support and validation. Even everyday small talk—comments over the newspaper at breakfast, shared memories—is a way of connecting. Communication is also used for transactions: making appointments, buying something at the drugstore, talking with a doctor. When a stroke leaves an individual with aphasia or other communication problems, the losses can be devastating.
Aphasia is an impairment of the ability to understand and/or express language in its many forms. The good news is: there are a number of helpful do’s and don’ts for communicating with someone with aphasia. Here we will discuss ways of helping a person understand better.
First, it is important to remember the following key points:
Struggling with communication does not mean the person cannot think or understand the world around them. As one spouse explains, “Mike didn’t get stupid. He just has aphasia.” Sadly, many people mistake a person’s inability to participate fully in conversations as a sign that they are somehow less of a person. People with aphasia and their closest family can become isolated as friends and others disappear because they are uncomfortable and uninformed. For everyone in the social network, with appropriate communication techniques, the underlying competence of the individual with aphasia can be revealed
Just as each stroke is different, so is each person’s aphasia. Different parts of the brain govern different skills used in communication, so the area damaged shapes the aphasia. This fact leads to the first tip for conversation partners.
Begin by simply asking: “What can I do to help? What works for you?” This step is often left out and the best efforts of conversational partners can fail because this question wasn’t asked. Sometimes the person with aphasia can explain, like Fred tried to do in the example at the start of this article. Other times, a family member can answer these questions best. But always try to start by asking directly what the conversation partner can do.
Do’s and Don’ts for Improving ComprehensionFor someone with comprehension problems, the following suggestions about what to do and not do can be helpful.
Do speak slowly. Even if you typically talk rapidly, slow yourself down. It can be done if you focus on how you are talking.
Do talk more simply and use frequent pauses. Use shorter sentences with simple grammar if needed. Emphasize key words and use more common words. For example, ask “Do you think the dinner will go well?” instead of “Do you anticipate any trouble with the evening event?”
Do give the person time to process. Sometimes extra time is all that is required to help the person understand and respond.
Do be willing to repeat what you have said the person seems to have trouble understanding or asks for a repeat. If you do repeat, you may need to modify your wording or break up what you said into smaller units.
Do be sensitive to the environment and the number of speakers. People with aphasia have more trouble understanding when:
Don’t ignore the environment or dismiss the needs of the person with aphasia. It is way too easy to think that that one difficult situation won’t hurt anyone. The problem is, as the stroke survivor is exposed to more and more of these situations, they are likely to withdraw from communication or choose not to be involved at all.
Do be sensitive to the communication needs of persons with aphasia in a group with a number of speakers. Remind everyone how to modify their communication and to avoid overlapping comments. This can be hard but failure to address these needs in group contexts can isolate the person with aphasia
Do use a variety of communication supports such as: gestures, writing key words on paper or offering choice of words in print (including printed versions of Yes and No with image like “thumbs up” and “thumbs down”.
By: Barbara B. Shadden, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, BC-ANCDS, University Professor Emeritus, Program in Communication Disorders, University of Arkansas
Article Source: stroke-network.com
Image Source: wbur.org