Aphasia, noun

apha·​sia ə-ˈfā-zh(ē-)ə 

Medical: loss or impairment of the power to use or comprehend words usually resulting from brain damage (as from a stroke, head injury, or infection)

Aphasia, the cruel illness resulting from a stroke, allowed Jean to understand what was said to her but prevented her from clearly replying. — Robert Giroux

The National Aphasia Association has declared June as National Aphasia Awareness Month

Furthermore, as aphasia is by definition a disorder impacting communication, they provide helpful guidance for family members, loved ones and care teams on best practices to improve interactions with someone who has aphasia. aphasia.

Their guide for “aphasia-friendly communication” is as follows: 

A stands for “ask simple questions.” Can you phrase your question as a yes/no question or ask for a thumbs up or thumbs down? 

P stands for “provide choices.” Instead of leaving the question open-ended, give a few choices to simplify things. 

H stands for “help communicate if asked.” Don’t speak for someone with aphasia. Give them time and space to request help filling in a missing word. 

A stands for “acknowledge the frustration.” People with aphasia know they have aphasia. It’s okay to kindly acknowledge that they’re frustrated and should take their time to speak. 

S stands for “speak slowly and clearly.” We like to tell people to adjust to aphasia standard time. It’s okay to relax and enjoy a slow conversation. People with aphasia have something to say, and so do you, so let’s be sure you understand each other. 

I stands for “if you don’t understand, say so.” It’s better to tell someone you don’t understand and ask them to say it another way, use hand gestures, draw, or point. Sometimes using two forms of communication at once — such as speaking and writing — increases understanding. 

Finally, A stands for “allow extra time.” Take the stress out of the conversation by slowing things down, pausing, waiting for the other person to think and speak, and enjoying the act of communication. Rushing someone with aphasia can make it challenging to find the correct words.

Great! So now you have a foundation in communication. 

What else should your rehab teams know about this disorder and its impact on function?

We know aphasia rehabilitation is most effective when physical, occupational and speech therapies work together as an interdisciplinary team. 

Collaborative efforts ensure a holistic approach that considers the unique needs of each individual. By combining the expertise of all disciplines, therapy can address physical, cognitive, emotional and communication aspects of aphasia, leading to comprehensive and impactful outcomes.

To begin, teams should know how aphasia is caused to appreciate which clinical conditions they are serving may have an apparent or underlying aphasia. 

Aphasia can be caused by brain injuries such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, or neurological conditions. 

What is each rehab team member’s role in providing care?

Physical Therapy

  • Physical therapy plays a vital role in the rehabilitation process for individuals with aphasia. While it may seem unusual to associate physical therapy with a language disorder, this therapy focuses on improving mobility, strength and coordination, all of which are fundamental to communication.
  • Many people with aphasia also experience physical impairments due to the underlying cause, such as stroke. Physical therapists work with these individuals to address issues such as muscle weakness, balance problems, and coordination difficulties. By incorporating targeted exercises, range of motion activities, and gait training, physical therapy helps enhance overall physical function, including the muscles responsible for speech production.

Occupational Therapy

  • Occupational therapy aims to help individuals with aphasia regain independence and engage in meaningful daily activities. This therapy focuses on improving cognitive, motor and perceptual skills necessary for effective communication.
  • Occupational therapists work closely with individuals with aphasia to develop strategies for compensating language deficits. They may employ techniques such as visual aids, written cues and electronic devices to facilitate communication. Occupational therapy also addresses cognitive skills, such as attention, memory and problem-solving, which are essential for effective communication. By tailoring activities to each individual’s needs and goals, occupational therapists empower individuals with aphasia to participate actively in their personal and professional lives.

Speech Language Pathology

  • Speech Language Pathology is at the forefront of aphasia rehabilitation, specializing in the evaluation and treatment of speech and language disorders. Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists, play a crucial role in helping individuals with aphasia regain and improve their communication abilities.
  • Speech Language Pathology sessions are highly individualized, focusing on the specific needs and goals of each person with aphasia. Therapists employ various techniques, including repetition, word-finding exercises and picture descriptions, to improve word retrieval, sentence formation and overall speech fluency. They also incorporate augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) strategies when necessary, utilizing tools like communication boards, electronic devices or sign language.
  • In addition to language aspects, speech therapists address non-verbal communication skills, including facial expressions, body language and gestures. These skills are crucial for effective communication when verbal abilities are impaired. Through intensive and structured therapy sessions, speech therapists help individuals with aphasia regain confidence in expressing their thoughts and feelings.

In closing, aphasia can profoundly impact an individual’s ability to communicate and engage in daily activities. 

However, through the collaborative efforts of physical, occupational and speech therapy individuals with aphasia can make significant strides towards regaining their communication skills and improving their quality of life. 

Rehab professionals have the skills to provide comprehensive support, addressing physical impairments, cognitive deficits, speech and language deficits, and other challenges. Together, we can offer hope, empowerment, and a path to rediscovering the power of communication for individuals living with aphasia.

Renee Kinder, MS, CCC-SLP, RAC-CT, is Executive Vice President of Clinical Services for Broad River Rehab. Additionally, she serves as a member of American Speech Language Hearing Association’s (ASHA) Healthcare and Economics Committee, is a member of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine community faculty and is an advisor to the American Medical Association’s Current Procedural Terminology CPT® Editorial Panel. She can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.