What is aphasia?

Communication difficulties are common after having a stroke with approximately 1/3 of people experiencing problems1. Difficulties can affect speech production and clarity, known as dysarthria or dyspraxia or the understanding and construction of both spoken or written language, known as aphasia.

Communication is an essential part of everyday life but can be more time consuming and frustrating for the person with a communication difficulty. However, improvement is possible for many people who have communication difficulties, with daily practice of their treatment goals over time. Of particular benefit are using communication strategies that are an integral part day to day activities in the person’s life. While it may be easier for the person to communicate with the people they are closest to, it is also very important for them to continue trying to communicate with other people in their life in support of their independence.

Practical things the family can do to help at home

The following are examples of activities that can assist the person with communication difficulties by giving them the opportunity to practice their verbal communication skills in their everyday life.

  • Answering the door – welcoming visitors to the house or telling cold callers that they are not needed.
  • Buying the paper at the local shop – having a simple conversation with the store keeper is a good way to practice the person’s communication goals.
  • Reading out recipe ingredients and methods to the cook of the house.
  • Answering the mobile phone to known people.
  • Talking about photo’s or articles that friends post on social media sites such as Facebook can also be an excellent source of stimulation.
  • Sending emails to friends or colleagues
  • Paying bills online, reading the instructions and filling in the pages..
  • Videoconferencing with friends or family members who are a long way away with Skype or something similar.
  • Making small talk with acquaintances they know from social groups such as at church, a sports club or at the pub.

People with communication difficulties often are afraid of how these conversational attempts will work for them, which is understandable. Communicating in social circumstances can be intimidating and overwhelming. However, distant friends and acquaintances too can be afraid of having a conversation because they want to help, but don’t know how to.

When things go wrong post stroke

Unfortunately, misguided attempts to help can lead to communication breakdown, and leave the person with the communication difficulty feeling more frustrated and isolated. However, there is a lot that can be done by the person with communication difficulties, their family members and significant others in educating others in how best to communicate to people with communication difficulties.

This information can be very helpful in creating and supporting “communication friendly” communities, which in turn, encourages more people with communication difficulties to feel more comfortable to practice their skills more.

Give these tips to close friends and family members

The following are some examples of things that a family member or close friend can explain and “demystify” for people who don’t know what to do:

  • Speak at a normal speed, not too fast, not too slow
  • Do not talk over the person, address questions or comments directly to them.
  • Be patient and allow the person plenty of time to respond – it may take them longer to process the information and work out their response.
  • Don’t interrupt the person as it can break the pattern of communication.
  • Use short clear sentences – give one piece of information at a time.
  • If the person with communication difficulties has difficulty finding the right word or finishing a sentence, ask them to explain it in a different way. Listen and watch for clues like pointing or writing. Also, pay attention to their body language as they may be gesturing what they are saying. Try not to say the words that you think they might be wanting to say for them.
  • Try to communicate with the person in a conversational way, not question after question (because then it can feel like an interrogation).
  • Use maps, calendars and photos (e.g. family members) to show what you are talking about and encourage the person to communicate in any way he/she can.
  • Have paper and pen available and write down relevant words.
  • If you don’t understand what the person with communication difficulties is saying, then ask them to clarify distant friends and acquaintances and rephrase what you thought they said if necessary. Also, encourage the person to let you know when they have not understood you.
  • Try to laugh together about misunderstandings and mistakes – it can help. Humour can help to bring you closer together, and may relieve the pressure. However, be sensitive to the person and don’t laugh at them.

Download the tips so you can email around the family.
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Creating and supporting opportunities for people with communication difficulties to communicate effectively in an environment is extremely important for their self-esteem, social interaction and to support their mood. Increasing awareness in the community about “what to do” to support people with communication difficulties is a fundamentally important action that can have a lasting and supportive impact on people with communication difficulties both now and in the future.

If you’re interested in finding out more check out our free tailored 10 part inbox speech and language therapy courses. Designed by our Iris Speaks Experts to help your family on their speech and language journey. Sign up here!

1 National Clinical Guidelines for Stroke (2016) Royal College of Physicians Intercollegiate Stroke Working Party. http://guideline.ssnap.org/2016StrokeGuideline/index.html

Written by Kim Clarke, Speech and Language Therapist