Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read and write. The National Aphasia Association explains that aphasia is always due to some sort of brain injury. The most common aphasia-causing brain injury is stroke, particularly with older adults. It can also arise from head injuries or brain tumors.
This video, from the National Aphasia Association, offers and brief and helpful description of aphasia and some tips for speaking with someone who has aphasia:
The most important thing to remember when communicating with someone who suffers from aphasia is patience. A person with aphasia has not lost any intelligence, only the ability to communicate. It may take them longer to formulate a response. Use simple, short sentences, and speak in a quiet location with few or no distractions.
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A person with aphasia may need communication tools to assist them with everyday tasks. Luckily there are a variety of aphasia apps that can be used by sufferers and their caregivers to facilitate communication. A comprehensive list of apps designed to assist aphasia sufferers can be found here. Some of the apps provide a sort of mental therapy, or cognitive exercises, to aid in the development of new communication skills. Others provide a method of communication. A user may touch a symbol or picture, and the app will be their voice, acting as a talking device for aphasia. Another app allows a user to create a message using pictures which will be translated into text for a social media update or email. The app can be used by caregivers, friends, and family members of aphasia sufferers to send picture messages as well. This way, the communication is not one-sided.
“Low-tech” options to help those with aphasia communicate include aphasia picture cards or a communication board. A quick Google search reveals a large variety of printable aphasia communication boards. One communication board may say “I want..” at the top and then display a list of pictures for things like raise temperature, lower temperature, TV on, volume up, volume down, a drink, or a blanket. Other communication boards show a wide variety of foods and drinks or a picture of the human body with a pain scale. These boards allow for ease of communication about basic needs. There are even communication books for adults with aphasia. These function like communication boards, but have many more options. They allow for more communication but can slow things down as they take longer to navigate than a single sheet of paper.
Another helpful aphasia communication tool would be a communication card. This is a business card-sized note that could be carried in the wallet. The card provided by stroke.org reads: I have had a stroke and find it difficult to speak, read, or write. Please give me time to communicate. Speak clearly, take your time, and write down keywords. Your help and patience would be appreciated. Passing this card to the receptionist at the doctor’s office or the cashier at the pharmacy can be extremely useful to facilitate communication and ease frustration for everyone involved in the conversation.
Remember, a person who suffers from aphasia has not lost any intelligence, only their ability to communicate. As a caregiver, family member, or friend, patience is key. Be compassionate and understanding, and you will still be able to communicate with your loved ones.