August 31, 2015

Communicating with Individuals with Aphasia

By Jill Tura, Director of Rehabilitation, Leonard Florence Center for Living
What is Aphasia?
Aphasia is a language disorder resulting from an injury to the brain which affects a person’s ability to produce and comprehend language. Aphasia often occurs after a stroke or a traumatic brain injury, or with progressive neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. It affects more than one million people in the United States. Aphasia does not affect a person’s intelligence, but it can make speaking, writing, reading and understanding language very difficult. The type and severity of the aphasia depends on where and how severely the injury happened in the person’s brain. Some people may have difficulty coming up with the words they want to say, where others may not be able to speak at all. It is important to remember that aphasia may affect a person’s ability to speak, but it may also affect the person’s ability to understand what others are saying. Often, individuals with aphasia may also experience other communication disorders such as dysarthria (difficulty with articulation of sounds) or apraxia (difficulty with the motor planning required for producing speech).
Here are some general tips for communicating with individuals with aphasia (taken from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

  • Get the person’s attention before you start speaking
  • Maintain eye contact and watch the person’s body language and use of gesture
  • Minimize or eliminate background noise (TV, radio, other people)
  • Keep your voice at a normal level. Do not speak loudly unless the person asks you to do so
  • Keep communication simple, but adult-like. Don’t “talk down” to the person with aphasia
  • Simplify your sentence structure and emphasize key words
  • Reduce your rate of speech
  • Give the individual time to speak. Resist the urge to finish sentences or offer words
  • Communicate with drawings, gestures, writing, and facial expressions in addition to speech
  • Encourage the person to use drawings, gestures, and writing
  • Use “yes” and “no” questions rather than open-ended questions
  • Praise all attempts to speak and downplay any errors. Avoid insisting that each word be produced perfectly
  • Engage in normal activities whenever possible
  • Encourage independence and avoid being overprotective

For more information and resources regarding aphasia, check out: