Have you ever had that infuriating feeling of a word being on the tip of your tongue? Where no matter what you do, you just can’t quite remember what word you wanted to say? How about when someone is telling you something really complicated and no matter how hard you listen, you just don’t understand? This is what it feels like to have aphasia.
June is Aphasia Awareness Month which seeks to raise awareness of the symptoms, difficulties and isolation experienced by people with aphasia. Aphasia can be caused by a number of conditions that damage the ‘language centres’ of the brain. These include stroke, brain tumours, acquired brain injuries or degenerative conditions.
There are several types of aphasia, each with their own characteristics and symptoms. These include global aphasia, Broca’s aphasia, mixed non-fluent aphasia, Wernicke’s aphasia, anomic aphasia, primary progressive aphasia and others. Aphasia primarily affects a person’s ability to recall words and understand spoken and written language to differing degrees. This can seriously affect a person’s ability to communicate their daily needs and wants, including their participation in everyday conversations, to fulfil their employment needs and to perform daily tasks independently. It is important to remember, that although aphasia can severely limit communication, it does NOT affect their intelligence.
A person with aphasia can receive support from a Speech Pathologist. An assessment will first determine the type of aphasia they have and then strategies that they and their families can use to increase their communication on a daily basis. As with all neurological conditions, the sooner a person receives therapy the better!
Therapy focuses on functional goals to help the person communicate in a way that is meaningful to them. Goals are centered on the Life Participation Model, meaning that therapy seeks to increase a person’s participation in the activities that matter to them. This might include having conversations with family, being able to order food independently at their local café or participating in regular meetings with their local community group.
When a person acquires aphasia, their families and carers are often affected, too. Much of our personality is related to our ability to use language, so a loss of language can often be devastating for the person and their family. Evidence shows that many people with aphasia experience feelings of frustration, loneliness and isolation.
Some helpful strategies for caregivers to use include:
- Keeping language simple- make sure your sentences are short and to the point. Try not to use figurative language or long, complex sentence structures.
- Wait and be patient when having a conversation- give the person plenty of time to produce a response.
- Clarify and confirm what the person is trying to say- do not talk for the person or try to guess what they are saying; instead, listen to what they are saying and confirm that you understand. For example, they might say ‘Wednesday…doctor…’. You can say, ‘Yes, you have a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday.’
- Help the person to produce the correct words by talking about the different features. For example, ‘Where would I find it?’ ‘What does it do?’ ‘What does it look like?’
- Minimise distractions while having a conversation- turn off radios and TV in the background.
- Use Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)- this may be in the form of visuals or communication boards to help the person communicate.
In Summary, remember:
- Aphasia is caused by damage to the language centres of the brain.
- Aphasia does not affect a person’s intelligence.
- There are several types of aphasia that affect communication in different ways.
- Speech Pathologists can assist with diagnosis and management of aphasia.
For further information, please see:
- The Australian Aphasia Association
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
- Speech Pathology Australia
If you or someone you know is affected by aphasia, please contact one of our adult therapists for further assistance on 9054 1996 or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org