Imagine if you lost your ability to communicate with everyone around you.

If a person loses their ability to communicate, they suffer a significant and distressing loss.  In fact, loss of speech and language is one of the most distressing life events that can happen.

Aphasia is a communication disorder which occurs as a result of a brain injury.  Brain injury could be a result of stroke (CVA), tumour, traumatic brain injury (such as from an accident) or degenerative diseases such as dementia or Parkinson’s Disease.  It results in people having difficulty speaking, understanding, reading or writing, or a combination of all of these.  The impact of the injury could be minimal or very severe so that a person cannot speak coherently or understand what they hear.

People with aphasia may not be able to think of the word they want to use, or may not be able to even name common everyday objects.  Sometimes they substitute an inaccurate word for another accurate one.  It could be that they substitute one sound in a word for a different sound, so that their speech becomes incoherent.

Understanding sentences can become a problem.   English grammar is complex, and if the subtle nuances are misunderstood then a sentence can become incomprehensible and the meaning lost.  We need to “join the dots” when we listen in order to inference and problem solve and if we lose the ability to talk things through in our head we also lose the ability to take all the information into account and reason logically.

Nonliteral language can become a problem.  All day we use expressions and phrases, with an implied meaning, and expect others to ‘decode’ the actual literal words into a meaning relative to the situation.

Reading can suffer so that the practicalities and pleasure of the written language are no longer accessible. If we lose the ability to spelling and write, then an important means of communicating with others is also lost.

Other cognitive (thinking) skills are often associated with loss of speech or language.  People with aphasia can lose their ability to regulate their attention.  They can have difficulty with sequencing, so that not only are their language thinking skills affected but also managing time and money.

How to help others understand if you have lost your language skills:

  • Speech Pathologists can provide individualised programs, based on a person’s individual strengths and weaknesses, to improve speech and understanding.
  • Some people may benefit from AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) depending on their retained abilities, and this can include technology or be as simple as pictures to point to.  Available technologies could include text-to-speech for some people.  AAC devices can be a stepping stone to improving speech.
  • Use your gesture as simply as possible, to help illustrate what you are saying, such as pointing. Use your body language to support your words so others know how you feel.

How to help a person with aphasia understand you:

  • Get the person’s attention first before speaking.
  • Speak a little slower.
  • Use short, simple sentences.
  • Exaggerate the key (most important) words and, if possible, separate them slightly by using slight pauses before or after the key words.
  • Exaggerate the tune in your voice to make your message clearer.
  • If they don’t understand, think of another way to say it.
  • Ask yes/no questions.
  • Ask the person to show you what they mean.
  • Allow the other person time to talk or get their message across.