Aphasia Awareness Month – What is Aphasia?

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aphasia

June is Aphasia Awareness Month

Stroke is the No. 4 cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the U.S. A stroke can have various communication effects, one of which is aphasia. Stroke is the most common cause of aphasia, which is a language disorder that affects the ability to communicate.

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, which is a national campaign to increase public education around the language disorder and to recognize the numerous people who are living with or caring for people with aphasia. The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association is increasing aphasia awareness by sharing communication tips, the effects of having aphasia, assistive devices for those with aphasia and more.

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a language disorder that affects the ability to communicate. It’s most often caused by strokes that occur in areas of the brain (usually in the left side of the brain) that control speech and language. But brain injuries resulting in aphasia may also arise from head trauma, from brain tumors, or from infections. Aphasia does not affect intelligence. Stroke survivors remain mentally alert, even though their speech may be jumbled, fragmented or impossible to understand.

People with aphasia:

  • May be disrupted in their ability to use language in ordinary circumstances.
  • May have difficulty communicating in daily activities.
  • May have difficulty communicating at home, in social situations, or at work.
  • May feel isolated.

Types of Aphasia

There are several forms of aphasia. They include:

  • Global aphasia — People with this aphasia may be completely unable to speak, name objects, repeat phrases or follow commands.
  • Broca’s aphasia — The person knows what they want to say, but can’t find the right words (can’t get the words out).
  • Wernicke’s aphasia — A person with this aphasia can seldom understand what’s being said or control what they’re saying.

How Does It Feel to Have Aphasia?

People with aphasia are often frustrated and confused because they can’t speak as well or understand things the way they did before their stroke. They may act differently because of changes in their brain. Imagine looking at the headlines of the morning newspaper and not being able to recognize the words. Or think about trying to say “put the car in the garage” and it comes out “put the train in the house” or “widdle tee car ungsender plissen.” Thousands of alert, intelligent men and women are suddenly plunged into a world of jumbled communication because of aphasia.

Tips for Communicating with a Person with Aphasia

The impact of aphasia on relationships may be profound, or only slight.  No two people with aphasia are alike with respect to severity, former speech and language skills, or personality.  But in all cases it is essential for the person to communicate as successfully as possible from the very beginning of the recovery process.  Here are some suggestions to help communicate with a person with aphasia:

  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before you start.
  • Minimize or eliminate background noise (TV, radio, other people).
  • Keep your own voice at a normal level, unless the person has indicated otherwise.
  • Keep communication simple, but adult.  Simplify your own sentence structure and reduce your rate of speech.  Emphasize key words.  Don’t “talk down” to the person with aphasia.
  • Give them time to speak.  Resist the urge to finish sentences or offer words.
  • Communicate with drawings, gestures, writing and facial expressions in addition to speech.
  • Confirm that you are communicating successfully with “yes” and “no” questions.
  • Praise all attempts to speak and downplay any errors.  Avoid insisting that that each word be produced perfectly.
  • Engage in normal activities whenever possible.  Do not shield people with aphasia from family or ignore them in a group conversation.  Rather, try to involve them in family decision-making as much as possible.  Keep them informed of events but avoid burdening them with day to day details.
  • Encourage independence and avoid being overprotective. 

Why Should Someone with Aphasia Wear a Medical ID?

If  your loved one has aphasia, or after a person has had a stroke, it may be necessary for them to wear a medical ID bracelet to communicate any ongoing conditions or medications that they are taking. In an emergency situation, time is of the essence.  For someone with aphasia, stressful situations can result in even more difficulty communicating than normal. Additionally, without knowledge of the existing aphasia, emergency medical personnel may initially misdiagnose the communication problem as a new condition such as head injury.

Wearing a medical ID will let the medical staff know how to make the appropriate medical decisions that can save your life. In case you’re in an accident, medical professionals will know what your likely medications are and what not to give you.

Sources: American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, National Aphasia Association

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