Aphasia affects millions of people in the United States, yet many aren’t even aware of what it fully means or how to support someone with aphasia. If you have a loved one with the condition, you might know just how heartbreaking it is not to be able to communicate with them like you used to. However, you can work with them to understand one another better and create a plan for when communication gets tough.
What Exactly Is Aphasia?
If you have a loved one with aphasia, you may understand the gist of it but not how it affects their life in specific ways. For example, there are technically two types of aphasia: fluent and non-fluent. Those with fluent aphasia can speak well, but some of their words may not sound correct phonetically. People with non-fluent aphasia can understand speech better, and their words might be broken into shorter, incomplete sentences or might be omitted entirely.
At least 2 million people in the United States have aphasia, and as of right now, there’s no known cure. While there isn’t a cure, you can take steps to ensure your loved one’s successful communication and show them that their words are valued. Taking them to therapy and being patient with them are just some of the ways you can show your loved one you care. One day, there might be a cure, but until then, you should learn how the condition affects your loved one and how to support someone with aphasia the best way you can.
Aphasia can result from many conditions. One of the most common conditions that leads to aphasia is stroke, but head injuries and brain tumors can just as likely cause it. Around 31% of people who have a stroke for the first time also develop aphasia. While the sources might be different, the result is always the same — and having difficulty communicating can be immensely frustrating for someone who just wants to be heard.
Aphasia can make it difficult for your loved one to:
- Communicate with their relatives and/or caregivers
- Speak or write clearly and effectively
- Understand people who don’t accommodate them
Unfortunately, it’s too easy for people to fall into depression when experiencing aphasia. Situational depression comes with major, life-altering events, like suddenly being unable to communicate with their loved ones. Since depression can be a silent killer and have many detrimental side effects, your loved one needs to feel understood and heard. As such, they’ll need someone to support them as they navigate the world with their new condition. Over time, the aphasia may correct itself and go away, but in other cases, it might be a new part of their life that you need to embrace.
How to Support Someone With Aphasia: 4 Simple Ideas
How do you care for someone with aphasia? You become an advocate for them. Someone with aphasia is not a child — they just can’t communicate the way they previously did and might require some patience or a little extra help. Here are some little ways to support someone with aphasia that can make a huge impact. These techniques might brighten their day, as it proves that you’re trying to listen to them and are making communication as easy for them as possible.
1. Limit Stimuli
Excess stimuli might make things harder for your loved one to communicate. You should ensure they have your full attention when communicating their needs to you. Try turning off the television, putting down your phone, and switching off any music or other background noise. Having fewer stimuli around might help your loved one gather their thoughts and communicate them more effectively than if they heard words from every direction. It may even help them feel renewed hope in their situation.
2. Speak Slowly and Clearly
When talking to your loved one, ensure they understand you as well. You should speak slowly and clearly, getting straight to the point without taking too many detours through a story. Be willing to repeat yourself and stay patient with them as they try to decipher the meaning of your words.
Try not to yell or use figures of speech they might not understand. While it might be easy to get frustrated with someone when you have to repeat your sentences repeatedly, you should avoid using sarcasm, which can only make someone feel worse and damage your relationship with them. Similarly, you don’t need to water down your conversation and treat them like a child without an expansive vocabulary.
3. Ask Them Questions
When you aren’t sure what your loved one means, you need to ask questions. The more questions you ask, even if they feel unnecessary, the better you’ll be able to understand them. It’ll help you clarify their message, and even if it feels tedious, it’ll ensure their voice is heard, and you can care for them as best as possible.
Encourage your loved one to be vulnerable with you when they can. You might even choose to be vulnerable first, to show your loved one that you want open communication and that you trust them to understand your feelings and where you’re coming from. Since you want to accommodate your loved one’s wishes as best as possible, showing them that you’re willing to be vulnerable with them might help open the heart of someone who has felt unheard or discarded because of aphasia.
4. Talk to a Professional
When in doubt, enlist a professional to help you understand what you should be doing next. You know your family member best, and a health care professional will know how to support someone with aphasia. Together, you can devise a plan to help your loved one thrive, despite their new diagnosis. They may also be able to provide you with some hope for the future. Through further treatments, you and your loved one may both become more comfortable with new types of communication.
How Do You Care for Someone With Aphasia?
You care for someone with aphasia by being patient and kind. While it is a less-than-ideal situation to find yourself in, it doesn’t mean you and your loved one can’t talk anymore. You just need to approach the situation differently and a bit more delicately. Once you figure out an effective way to communicate with your loved one, you’ll be able to support someone with aphasia well and can help others through a similar situation. All you need is a bit of compassion, and you may notice that it gets easier to talk to someone over time.