Supporting individuals with aphasia
In honor of Aphasia Awareness Month, this blog post aims to highlight the impact of aphasia and provide effective ways to support individuals affected by this communication disorder.
In this blog post, I explain:
What is aphasia?
Aphasia is a complex neurological disorder that impacts a person’s ability to comprehend and express language. Individuals with aphasia may experience challenges speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. The specific symptoms and severity of aphasia vary depending on the location and extent of the brain damage. Some individuals may have difficulty finding the right words to express their thought or understanding spoken or written language while others may struggle with grammatical structures, sentence formations, or maintaining a coherent conversation.
There are 7 different types of aphasia, but the truth is individuals with aphasia can experience a combination of symptoms that may not fit precisely into one type. Additionally, the severity and specific characteristics of aphasia can vary from person to person.
Broca's aphasia is characterized by a reduction in the production of speech. People affected by this condition may encounter challenges in constructing coherent sentences, experience difficulty in finding the appropriate words (referred to as anomia), and substitute one word or sound with another (known as paraphasias). The written expression often reflects the limitations observed in verbal communication. However, the comprehension of language tends to remain relatively unaffected.
Wernicke’s aphasia is characterized by impaired language comprehension and fluent, but incoherent speech. People with this type of aphasia may produce sentences that lack meaning or include “invented” or incorrect words. They lack awareness to notice or fix the errors they make. They often have difficulty understanding spoken or written language.
Global aphasia is the most severe form of aphasia. It is characterized by significant impairments in both language production and comprehension. People with global aphasia may have extremely limited speech or be unable to speak. They may struggle with understanding spoken or written language.
Anomic aphasia is characterized by word-finding difficulties. Individuals with this condition may have trouble recalling the names of objects, people, or places. Their speech is generally fluent and grammatically correct, but they often use vague or nonspecific terms to compensate for their difficulty.
Conduction aphasia is characterized by impaired repetition skills. Individuals with this condition may have difficulty repeating words or phrases accurately even though their speech production and comprehension are relatively preserved. They often anticipate and self-correct errors.
Transcortical sensory aphasia is similar to Wernicke’s aphasia, but with preserved repetition skills. Individuals with this condition are fluent, but speech often lacks meaning. Their ability to repeat words and phrases is relatively intact.
Transcortical motor aphasia is similar to Broca’s aphasia, but with preserved repetition skills. Individuals with this condition have nonfluent speech and difficulty initiating speech, but they can repeat words and phrases. Their comprehension may be preserved.
What causes aphasia?
Aphasia is caused by damage to the areas of the brain that are responsible for language processing. It is important to note that aphasia can manifest in different forms and severity depending on the specific area of the brain affected and the extent of the damage.
Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, leading to brain damage. This can cause aphasia.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occurs from severe head injuries that can damage areas of the brain responsible for language processing leading to aphasia. TBI typically causes widespread damage, so it often is not classified as “pure” aphasia
Certain degenerative conditions that impact the brain over time, such as Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and primary progressive aphasia, can lead to the development of aphasia as the disease progresses.
Brain infections such as encephalitis or meningitis can cause damage to language centers and result in aphasia.
Surgical procedures involving the brain may cause damage to language areas and result in aphasia.
Strategies for communicative partners
Enhancing communication with people who have aphasia requires patience, understanding, and the use of various strategies to facilitate effective interaction. If you are a partner or friend of someone with aphasia, here are some strategies to enhance communication.
Maintain eye contact. Make sure to establish and maintain eye contact with the person you’re communicating with. This shows that you are attentive and engaged in the conversation.
Give them time to respond. Aphasia can be frustrating for both the person experiencing it and their communicative partners. Stay patient and understanding during conversations, allowing them enough time to express themselves. Avoid finishing their sentences or speaking on their behalf, as it can be disempowering.
Simplify your messages. Use clear and concise language, breaking down complex ideas into smaller more manageable pieces. Speak in short sentences and avoid overwhelming them with too much information at once.
Repeat, but don’t rephrase. When asked to repeat yourself, do so using the exact same wording. People with aphasia often require repetition rather than rephrasing, as they may have missed the first part of the sentence and only need to process the latter half when repeated verbatim. Rephrasing would necessitate processing both the initial and latter portions again.
Engage in shared activities. Participate in activities that promote communication, such as reading together, playing games, or pursuing hobbies you both enjoy. Shared experiences can create opportunities for communication while strengthening your bond.
Seek professional guidance. Consider involving a speech-language pathologist or joining aphasia support groups together. These resources can provide valuable strategies, tips, and emotional support for both of you in navigating the challenges of aphasia.
Speech therapy with me
As a speech therapist, I am honored to play a vital role in the lives of individuals with aphasia and their family members. The journey and recovery from aphasia is unique for each person, but with dedication, patience, and collaboration, significant progress can be made.
For people with aphasia, I can provide tailored therapy sessions that target specific language goals and communication strategies. Through various techniques, I can help individuals regain their ability to express themselves and understand language, and engage in meaningful conversations. Additionally, I can assist in improving reading and writing skills, which further enhance overall communication abilities.
However, my support extends beyond individual therapy sessions. I believe in empowering both the person with aphasia and their family members to actively participate in the recovery process. By involving family members in therapy sessions and providing them with education and resources, I can help them understand aphasia, its impact, and effective strategies for communication at home. Family involvement not only enhances the individual's progress but also fosters a supportive and nurturing environment, essential for their overall well-being
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for a free consultation to see how I can help you or your loved one.