Techniques For Improving Communication Skills In Individuals With Aphasia

Techniques For Improving Communication Skills In Individuals With Aphasia

Take a moment to imagine yourself arriving in a country where you speak little or none of the native language. As long as the people you encounter in this country speak to you slowly, you can understand bits and pieces of what they are saying. This experience is a good example of how individuals with aphasia feel every day. Aphasia is a language impairment that affects an individual’s ability to use and understand spoken language, as well as read, write, use and understand numbers, and effectively use non-verbal communication such as gestures and facial expressions. Aphasia occurs following an injury to the brain, most commonly a stroke or traumatic brain injury, but can also be the result of a tumor or other medical condition involving the brain. 

Communicating with aphasia can be incredibly difficult and can have massive impacts on the individual’s confidence and quality of life. If you or a loved one is struggling to communicate due to aphasia, help is available. Get started with Great Speech by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What are the Symptoms of Aphasia?

The symptoms of aphasia can range from mild to severe, and each individual with the condition can present a unique combination of deficits and challenges related to communication. In more mild cases of aphasia, symptoms may include occasional difficulties related to word retrieval and recall, whereas more severe cases can cause the complete loss of speaking and comprehension skills. 

An individual with aphasia may present one, several, or all of the following symptoms:

  • Speaking in incomplete or short sentences
  • Producing sentences that are nonsensical
  • Frequent substitutions of one word for another
  • Use words that are unrecognizable 
  • Difficulty retrieving or finding the appropriate words
  • Inability to understand others in conversation
  • Inability to understand written words
  • Writing sentences that are nonsensical

What Causes Aphasia?

Aphasia results from damage to the areas of the brain that are necessary for the production and comprehension of language. 

Some of the most common causes of aphasia include:

  • Stroke (this is the most common cause of aphasia)
  • Severe Head Trauma
  • Brain Tumor
  • Degenerative Neurological Conditions (dementia is the most common example of this)

While aphasia can affect individuals of all ages, this condition is most commonly seen in people who are over the age of 65. This is due to the fact that strokes and degenerative neurological conditions occur more frequently in older adults, but these conditions can occur at younger ages as well. If you or a loved one is struggling to communicate as a result of aphasia, speech therapy can help. Get started by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What are the Different Types of Aphasia?

There are six primary types of aphasia. They include:

Global Aphasia – This is the most severe type of aphasia and is caused by injuries to multiple areas of the brain that are required to process language. Individuals with global aphasia can usually only accurately produce a handful of recognizable words and understand little or no spoken language. This type of aphasia commonly occurs following a stroke or brain injury and can improve as the brain heals, however permanent damage can occur. 

Broca’s Aphasia – Broca’s aphasia is also commonly referred to as expressive or non-fluent aphasia. Individuals with this form of aphasia typically suffer a partial loss of language abilities. They often find speaking fluently tricky, and their speech production is generally limited to only a few words at a time. In cases of Broca’s aphasia, speech is described as sounding halting or effortful, though individuals with this type of aphasia usually retain their ability to understand speech.  

Mixed Non-Fluent Aphasia – This type of aphasia usually means that the individual will have very limited speech abilities, as well as highly limited comprehension abilities. They may retain some of their reading and writing abilities, though usually not beyond an elementary school level. 

Wernicke’s Aphasia – This type of aphasia is also often referred to as fluent or receptive aphasia. This is because individuals with this type of aphasia typically do not have difficulty producing fluid and connected speech. They may, however, frequently use nonsense or irrelevant words in their sentences, often without realizing it, and have limited comprehension abilities. 

Anomic Aphasia – An individual with anomic aphasia lacks the ability to produce the right words to express their thoughts and feelings. They will have a grasp of general grammar and speech output but will sound vague and difficult to understand due to their inability to retrieve the appropriate words. 

Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) – PPA is referred to as a neurological syndrome that results in an individual losing their language ability slowly and progressively over time. PPA is usually the result of degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. This condition progresses as the brain tissues become further damaged as time progresses and is usually accompanied by memory loss and other symptoms of dementia. 

How Does Speech Therapy Help with Aphasia?

Speech and language pathologists are highly trained in the treatment of aphasia, as well as other related disorders, and are an important part of facilitating recovery. Research has shown that individuals who receive services from qualified speech and language pathologists benefit in both the quantity and quality of language skill recovery. Speech therapy for aphasia often will focus on the recovery of certain abilities, alternative or compensatory communication strategies, or (most commonly) a combination of both. In every instance, the goal of speech therapy for aphasia focuses on improving the efficiency and quality of the individual’s communication. 

Once the speech pathologist has identified the major areas of difficulty and where specific communication deficits lie, they will start to coach the individual on the pronunciation of basic words and letter sounds, as well as instruct them on how to communicate non-verbally. 

In most cases, speech therapy for aphasia will focus on one-on-one repetitive therapy. Studies have shown that frequent and intense repetition is the most effective and efficient method of regaining lost communication abilities because of aphasia. 

The speech therapist will also encourage the individual to practice making basic letter sounds, usually displaying images and encouraging the individual to verbally express what they see. In many ways, speech therapy for aphasia can be similar to the process of learning a new language. 

Speech and language pathologists will use a wide variety of tools, techniques, and exercises to aid the individual as they work to regain their speech and language skills. Singing is among one of the most effective strategies, as it is not uncommon for individuals with aphasia to struggle to produce a handful of words, but they can sing entire songs without difficulty. 

Tips and Techniques for Improving Communication Skills During Aphasia Recovery

An aphasia diagnosis can not only affect the individual, but also their family, friends, and loved ones. When communicating with someone who has been diagnosed with aphasia, setting them up for success is deeply important. Here are our best tips for helping to improve communication with individuals diagnosed with aphasia:

  • Find a Quiet Space
  • Limit Distractions
  • Ensure you Have their Attention Before you Speak
  • Keep Conversations Short and Simple
  • Speak Naturally and Slowly
  • Allow Lots of Time for the Individual to Respond
  • Use Lots of Gestures and Facial Expressions
  • Never Speak About the Individual as if They Aren’t There
  • Encourage Communication
  • Be Patient 

Above all, remember that regaining lost communication skills due to aphasia can take months, even years. Be patient and compassionate as your loved one works on their recovery. If you or a loved one would benefit from time with a speech therapist, don’t wait. Get started by scheduling your free introductory call today!