COMMUNICATING WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE APHASIA

By Henning van Aswegen

May 2002

 

a.pha.sia (uh-fay'-zhuh) n. An impairment of the ability to use or comprehend words, usually acquired as a result of a stroke or other brain injury. (NAA 2002)

 

WHAT IS APHASIA?

 

Aphasia is a speech and language disorder that may result from a stroke, head trauma or other neurological condition. All people with aphasia experience some degree of difficulty talking and comprehending spoken language. Many with aphasia have problems reading, writing and calculating as well. Although symptoms may vary, what is consistent across aphasic syndromes is the difficulties and frustrations that people with aphasia and their families encounter in dealing with communication impairment. (National Aphasia Association, 1988)

 

Aphasia (or dysphasia as it is sometimes referred to) refers to impairment in the ability to use symbols. Language involves a number of different levels - expression, comprehension, reading, writing and, in the case of some individuals such as the deaf, other forms of expression such as gesture and signs. An aphasic patient has difficulty in formulating what he or she wants to say or in retrieving language as well as in understanding it. (Vivian Fritz and Claire Penn, 1992, p.56)

 

 

COMMUNICATING WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE APHASIA

 

Aphasia changes the way in which we communicate with those people most important to us: family, friends, and co-workers.

 

The impact of aphasia on relationships may be profound, or only slight. NO TWO PEOPLE WITH APHASIA ARE ALIKE WITH RESPECT TO SEVERITY, FORMER SPEECH AND LANGUAGE SKILLS, OR PERSONALITY. But in all cases it is essential for the person to communicate as successfully as possible from the very beginning of the recovery process.

 

 

HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH A PERSON WHO HAS APHASIA

 

Talk to the person with aphasia as an adult and not as a child. Avoid talking down to the person.

 

During conversation, minimize or eliminate background noise (i.e., television, radio, other people) whenever possible.

 

Make sure you have the person's attention before communicating.

 

Praise all attempts to speak; make speaking a pleasant experience and provide stimulating conversation. Encourage and use all modes of communication (speech, writing, drawing, yes/no responses, choices, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions).

 

Give them time to talk and permit a reasonable amount of time to respond. Accept all communication attempts (speech, gesture, writing, drawing) rather than demanding speech.

 

Keep your own communication simple, but adult. Simplify sentence structure and reduce your own rate of speech. Keep your voice at a normal volume level and emphasize key words.

 

Encourage people with aphasia to be as independent as possible.

 

Do not shield people with aphasia from family or friends or ignore them in a group conversation.

Henning van Aswegen had a stroke in October 1987. The neurosurgeon wrote a letter to his wife and father stating that he had a brain tumor (malicious), that he would not improve - he WAS APHASIC! The neurologist afterwards wrote a letter stating that he had a stroke resulting from an extended migraine attack (ischaemic stroke).

 

 

I BELIEVE, and with Speech Therapists, Physios, OT's and God guiding us all, we worked hard to restore my confidence and slowly I began using words and sentences. I taped child books with my own voice - again and again (swearing and apologizing!)

 

Child books became primary school books and eventually high school books (still recording and playing back) - IT CAN BE DONE BUT YOU, AND YOU ALONE CAN DO IT (with your Speech Therapist and realizing the damage you did to your brain while stroking - remember age is also a factor) If you exercise your brain (like arms, legs) it will improve - be patient but keep on - it is a never-ending exercise but remember you can still see, hear, taste, smell and be thankful for what you have left - IT IS ONLY TEMPORARY!

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Copyright May 2002

The Stroke Network, Inc.

P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009

All rights reserved