Improving Communication When A Loved One Has Aphasia
Not being able to effectively communicate can be frustrating. There are more than 2 million Americans living with aphasia, a communication disorder that can stem from a brain injury, infection, or neurological disorder. Seniors with conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease may develop aphasia, as well as those who have experienced a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Aphasia does not affect their intelligence, but rather their ability to produce and process language, both spoken and written.
Symptoms Of Aphasia
There are several types of aphasia that all present slightly differently. Some people may have trouble finding the right words, but they understand what is said to them. Some people may be able to speak fluently even if some words are jumbled but have trouble processing what others say.
Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Difficulty finding the correct words for familiar people, places, or objects.
- Dropping words from sentences.
- Making up words or using an incorrect word in a sentence.
- Trouble expressing themselves in writing.
- Challenges understanding conversations.
These symptoms can be frustrating for not just seniors, but their families as well. Fortunately, there are several ways to overcome some of these challenges and improve communication.
One of the first things to remember is to be patient. Don’t rush the person or try to speak for them. This can make your aging parent even more upset or agitated. Give them time to try to express themselves. You can use context clues, body language, and facial expressions to try to figure out what they are saying even if they mix up or forget some of the words.
- Use pictures. Create a book of picture cards with familiar people, places, and objects they might need or want. You can continue adding new pictures so they have more specific ways to communicate what they want. Give them a few pictures to choose from when making a decision, or let them flip through the book.
- Use a white board. If they communicate better in writing versus speaking, keep a dry erase board handy. It can be used in many ways. They may write while you speak, you may write while they speak, or you both may write. It just depends on their needs and abilities.
- Use a communication device. You can get simple apps or devices where seniors can tap on a picture or phrase, and it is automatically read aloud. You can also program in your own images and words to tailor it to their needs. Some software has a text to speech feature where they can type out what they want to say, then the program will verbalize it.
- Use Sign Language. When spoken word isn’t working, use signed words instead. Everyone in the family can learn the alphabet and basic signs to facilitate improved communication. There are plenty of instructional videos, books, and classes that can help.
Find what works best for your family and your aging parent. As aphasia progresses, seniors’ communication preferences and abilities may change. Be flexible and open to trying different approaches. Work with an in-home caregiver who can support your loved one’s needs as they age in place and understands how to communicate with seniors who have aphasia. This connection and support can make seniors feel more comfortable and independent.