9 Useful Tips for Helping a Loved One with Aphasia

Talking to your loved one after a stroke or traumatic brain injury becomes difficult if they have aphasia. Whichever type of aphasia they may have, there are many ways that you can lead them towards recovery.

During the first few months of aphasia symptoms, it can be difficult to care for a person with aphasia. But keeping these simple tips will help you get into the right mindset, even in the long run along with speech-language therapy.

  1. Give Time to Respond
  2. Speak Plainly and Simply
  3. Avoid Quick Questions and Topic Changes
  4. Frequently Use Yes or No Questions
  5. Avoid Correcting Them
  6. Engage in Normal Speech Activities
  7. Keep Distractions to a Minimum
  8. Communicate to Understand
  9. Use Other Means of Communication

Here are more details on how you can do them and help with their speech and language abilities.

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1) Give Time to Respond

When you talk to your loved one, give them plenty of time to respond. It will help them communicate as you are giving the person time to process what they heard and reply.

Anytime they begin talking, don’t interrupt them or finish their sentences. If those with aphasia feel rushed, they may become anxious. Instead of completing their sentences, watch their facial expression and body language instead. You will gain more context to what they are trying to say.

You can also practice counting to 10 before providing help. It can take them longer to respond, but that will give them a bit of time. If you don’t have the time to wait, reassure them that you will give them time later to finish the conversation. Make sure that you come back to them as you agreed!

2) Speak Plainly and Simply

Use short sentences and phrases to communicate. Simpler sentence structures are faster and easier to comprehend. It also helps to emphasize on key words.

Aphasia doesn’t affect their intelligence, so don’t talk down to them. Keeping your language clear and simple is enough for good communication.

3) Avoid Quick Questions and Topic Changes

Since it takes a bit of time for them to process topics, don’t pile on different ones all at once. Your loved one will grow frustrated and won’t be able to respond to all of them if you don’t give them enough time.

The same goes with asking questions. They will become overwhelmed with the number of questions they have to reply to. Stick to one at a time.

4) Frequently Use Yes or No Questions

Whenever you think of a question to ask, see if you can change it up to a Yes/No question. These kinds of questions are easier to understand and respond to. Using this question form that doesn’t need new words either: you only need to communicate yes or no.

You can use Yes/No questions to offer options (“Do you want a blanket?”) or confirm something (“I think you mean the TV is too loud. Do you want me to turn it down?”). Make sure to only ask about one thought or topic at a time.

There are some questions where yes/no may not be enough. You can still use open-ended questions , but use close-ended ones more often.

5) Avoid Correcting Them

Communicating clearly and effectively will be a long process. Errors will occur when they speak from time to time, but it’s important to avoid correcting them.

While feedback is important in the learning process, this may cause frustration and resentment for your loved one. Insisting on perfect words the first time they say it might even demotivate them. Instead, practice positive feedback and praise especially when they attempt to speak.

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6) Engage in Normal Speech Activities

Normal conversations will help them learn and practice the words that work often. Talking about family matters and major events for example, will also help you learn to communicate with them more naturally.

Remember to speak to them clearly and concisely, but with the same tone you would use with a normal person. It’s important to acknowledge them as they are, and you are not talking down to them like a child. People with aphasia often know what they want to say. They just don’t have the right means to do so.

It’s important to let your loved one show intent in speaking. Whenever they are motivated to speak, encourage them. Be ready to assist, but wait for them to ask for help instead of jumping in straight away.

7) Keep Distractions to a Minimum

Before you talk with your loved one, think of ways to prepare your environment for communication. This can include reducing background noise and keeping away visual distractions.

For example, you can turn off the TV to reduce the noise. If you’re outside, choose a location that is not crowded with people. To reduce visual distractions, close doors to the room in case other people are walking outside. Cleaning up clutter will also help lessen visual cues for people with aphasia.

These changes will increase the focus in your conversation. The lack of distraction will help the both of you pay attention to each other’s facial expressions and gestures.

8) Communicate to Understand

Feedback is fundamental to knowing how to communicate better. If you’re unsure of what your loved one is communicating, you can nicely tell them so. A simple “I’m sorry, I don’t get what you’re saying yet. How about we try again?” can go a long way.

As said earlier, you can also confirm by using Yes/No questions instead of assuming what they were saying.

9) Use Other Means of Communication

Don’t be afraid to use tools, materials and other non-verbal cues to help support their communication skills. They may be hesitant to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication or AAC, since it’s not normally used by other people. However, using such communication aids, apps and tools would fill in the gaps of your loved one’s current communication abilities, which is more important. You can use:

  • gestures and facial expressions
  • drawings and visual aids
  • AAC apps and speech generating devices

Always have the tools available to your loved one, whether it be paper and pens, or a speech aid device. You can also collaborate with them to create a set of visual aids like cards and pictures to help when you are talking to each other.

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Aphasia can be a difficult journey for you and your loved one to navigate, but it’s not impossible. The above tips will help with your daily interactions with your loved ones.

You can get more instructions for your loved one with aphasia through your speech-language pathologist. Book your free consultation today with Apheleia Speech if you’re interested to learn how speech-language therapy can help.

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Lauren Templeton - Owner and Speech-Language Pathologist at Apheleia Speech Therapy

Lauren Templeton

Owner & Speech-Language Pathologist

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