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9 Tips for Communicating with a Loved One with Aphasia

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
05/30/14  11:55 PM PST
Aphasia communication tips

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month. Aphasia – also sometimes called dysphasia – is a complex communication disorder that impairs a person’s ability to speak and understand others. This neurological disorder is caused by damage to the portions of the brain that are responsible for language, but it does not affect intelligence. If your loved one has been diagnosed with aphasia, this does NOT mean that she or he has a mental illness or is intellectually impaired.

Degrees and symptoms of aphasia vary greatly. While in mild cases the aphasia may not obvious right away, people with more severe aphasia may have difficulty speaking, writing, reading and listening. No matter how serious or mild the aphasia, the one thing all people with aphasia have in common is difficulty communicating.

Aphasia Statistics

Permanent aphasia affects approximately one million Americans, and more than 200,000 Americans acquire the disorder each year. Aphasia is more common than Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. The communication disorder does not discriminate, affecting people of all ages, races, nationalities and genders – although it is most common among older people.

What Causes Aphasia?

When a person acquires aphasia it is usually due to damage on the left side of the brain, which controls movements on the right side of the body. The most common cause of aphasia is stroke; approximately 25%-40% of stroke survivors acquire aphasia. It can also result from head injury, brain tumor or other neurological causes.

Is Aphasia Permanent?

Aphasia may be temporary or permanent, depending upon which part of the brain is damaged and the severity of damage. About half of the individuals who show signs of aphasia have a temporary or transient form of aphasia, and complete recovery is possible within a few days. In permanent aphasia, a complete recovery is unlikely. However, with practice and adaptive communication strategies, many people continue to improve over a period of years and even decades.

9 Tips for Communicating with a Loved One with Aphasia

  1. Speak slowly and clearly.
  2. Focus on a single idea.
  3. Use simple sentences.
  4. Ask “yes” or “no” questions.
  5. Use common words, but try to avoid talking down to your loved one.
  6. Give him or her plenty of time to think and respond.
  7. Avoid finishing sentences or speaking for your loved one unless it’s necessary.
  8. Try your best to understand garbled or made-up words.
  9. Commend any and all efforts to speak.

For more information about aphasia, and for patient and caregiver resources and support, visit the National Aphasia Association, University of Rochester Medical CenterAphasiaHelp.org and AphasiaNow.org, which provided source information for this article.

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