The ability to speak and understand other people’s speech is one of those things that you don’t miss until it’s gone.
That’s the challenge of a type of medical condition called aphasia, where changes in the brain or damage essentially impair someone’s ability to communicate verbally.
The team at Accredited Home Care has worked with many clients with different types of aphasia and understands how frustrating it can be for the client as well as those around them. Even caregivers who are familiar with the condition might find challenges since the ability to communicate clearly is a big part of their role. So if there is aphasia involved, it might make even basic procedures more complex – imagine how tiring it can be to “play charades” or Pictionary for even a simple request, question, or statement.
At the same time, we’re also happy to share our knowledge and expertise in this topic with family members and loved ones to hopefully lower some of the anxieties and tensions involved in communication. We can let everyone know what might be happening and offer some different tools or techniques to learn and speak without using our voices.
What Is Aphasia?
To begin with, the National Aphasia Association says there are several types of aphasia.
A common one is where someone is unable to form words verbally but can still understand. One variation is not being able to come up with the correct word, mispronounce words or put sentences together in the wrong order.
In other cases, they can speak clearly but are not able to understand other people’s words.
There are different causes of aphasia. A stroke may cause the affected part of the brain and body to stop working or not work like it’s supposed to. Trauma from a head injury could also cause the wrong words to be used, or certain diseases like ALS can cause throat muscles to stop working which can make speaking difficult.
Some forms of dementia may cause brain cells to atrophy and die, especially the areas that control vocalization, language, or comprehension. It also might be accompanied by memory loss.
Other related variations of aphasia can include no longer being able to read or write but being able to understand others.
Getting a little tongue-tied or getting words mixed up certainly isn’t something reserved for those battling dementia – it can happen to all of us at any age. But as it advances and becomes more common it moves into the category of aphasia.
Some of these skills are gone forever, but others can be gained over time or relearned through therapy. This uncertainty can add to the frustration that aphasia can cause families. People with aphasia also may feel bad about their situation – imagine losing abilities that you’ve had most of your life such as speaking, reading, and writing.
The Role of Therapists
Depending on the type of aphasia or possible cause, a provider may offer some different options. If it’s something mechanical, such as one side of the body not working due to a stroke, he or she may suggest physical therapy accompanied by speech therapy.
While Accredited Home Care doesn’t offer speech therapy as one of its regular services, it does offer the expertise of occupational therapists.
What these types of professionals can offer is help adapting to these changed circumstances. Whether you eventually get some of these abilities back, an occupational therapist can show you ways to deal with these lost abilities. They can also work with family members to find effective ways to communicate.
At the same time, they also need to figure out how to work with the clients themselves, since aphasia could be a barrier in trying to learn occupational skills. Taught skills can include getting in and out of bed; dressing and grooming; and mobility, so sharing instructions and making sure the client understands them is critical.
Some of the strategies suggested for occupational therapists include:
- Learn speech therapy. Consider taking a few entry classes or spending time with a speech therapist in your local community. He or she could give you some pointers in dealing with people with limited speech. Since you’re more interested in basic communication vs. complete rehabilitation, it might be easier and faster to learn the basics.
- Look for tools. There are a variety of devices to help communicate better if verbal or written words aren’t able to be understood. This could be everything from pen and paper to electronic tablets that let people form words and phrases.
- Be calm and patient. Therapists usually have these skills by nature. But extra attention may be needed when working with people who are having difficulty speaking or forming the right words. They likely are frustrated themselves, but patiently letting them take their time and not rush them could help them be less stressed.
- Share your approach with family members. Everyone will be learning together how to work with this particular client. So their family may learn the meaning of certain gestures and can share with you, and vice versa. You can also invite trusted family members to be there during sessions if that will help.
- Perform research. The National Aphasia Association has a good deal of info and resources available. Plus, June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, an opportunity to learn more.