Thrive by IU Health

June 19, 2024

Supporting a loved one with aphasia

IU Health Arnett Hospital

Supporting a loved one with aphasia

Aphasia is a symptom of multiple neurological conditions. It is when an individual experiences difficulty with their language abilities due to brain-related complications. The most common cause of aphasia is stroke.

Nurse practitioner Jason Chaney at IU Health Arnett Neurology explains that there are two main types of aphasia.

“You can either have expressive aphasia or receptive aphasia. So, you can either have trouble getting your words out or have trouble understanding words,” Chaney says. It is caused by brain abnormalities or lesions and the presentation of the symptoms is based off where these lesions are located within the brain.

Having an uncontrollable factor affecting your ability to communicate can be frustrating and discouraging for those with neurological conditions. Follow these tips below to help create a better support system for a loved one experiencing aphasia.

1. Become educated about aphasia

Being able to fully be there for a loved one is dependent on how much is known about their situation. Doing some research and getting to know how the individual feels about their circumstances is an important starting point.

Chaney suggests attending appointments with them.

He says, “A good way to support people [with aphasia] is to go to their therapy appointments with them so that you know the strategies and the plans. Then you can help them out with their rehab.”

2. Speak slow and clearly

Individuals with receptive aphasia may find it more difficult to process words mumbled to them or spoken to them in a fast manner. This type of aphasia is also called Wernicke’s aphasia because it affects the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for the comprehension of written and spoken language. Speaking slow and clearly can give the individual a better chance of understanding what you are trying to communicate.

3. Support seeking out a speech therapist

According to Chaney, treating aphasia usually involves referring the patient to a speech therapist. Speech and language professionals can help patients with techniques on how to communicate despite their brain complications and point them towards resources such as communication devices that help them communicate nonverbally until they can regain their abilities or supplement their communication permanently.

Speech therapists are trained to help patients with issues regarding reading, writing, telling time, or using numbers. There are many speech therapists in the IU Health system who can help patients with aphasia across Indiana.

4. Offer to attend a support group with them

Support groups for people with aphasia are great for sharing resources and experiences. They are designed to help build community, maximize communication abilities and help patients stay up to date with the latest research and treatments.

Many clinics also provide resources specifically for family and friends, geared toward helping them be effective communication partners to loved ones with aphasia.

5. Be patient and understanding

“Recovery [from aphasia] is dependent on each person and how engaged they are with therapy,” says Chaney.

Aphasia is unpredictable. Some individuals may thrive in speech therapy or other methods or rehabilitation, and some may not be able to fully recover from whatever brain abnormality brought it on in the first place.

No matter the case, it is important to not expect for your loved ones to return exactly back to normal. One thing that can be anticipated is that the aphasia does not typically get worse from the initial occurrence.

Chaney says, “Typically the worst it gets is what it is to begin with.”

In addition to being understanding, it can be helpful to add in a bit more effort when speaking with the loved one. Get their attention before you speak and maintain eye contact with them throughout the conversation. Reduce background noise.

“Keeping it quiet helps to maintain their focus and keeps from making them distracted,” says Chaney.

Another thing to be wary of is giving them plenty of time to respond. It may take them an extra second or two to comprehend what you say and come up with a response. Don’t try to finish their sentences for them.