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Understanding and Caring For Someone With Aphasia

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, and in honor of that, we will discuss how to understand this disease and care for someone who suffers from it. We see many people in our home health care program in Santa Clara and elsewhere who live with aphasia, a condition that more than two million people in the United States suffer from, according to the National Aphasia Association (NAA).

Defining Aphasia

Aphasia has made recent headlines due to the actor Bruce Willis’ diagnosis. Aphasia is a communication disorder, leaving people with an inability to process language, understand others, and speak correctly (if at all). This doesn’t mean their intelligence is affected, though, says the National Aphasia Association. This condition comes about as a result of an injury to the brain, such as from head trauma, a stroke, brain tumor, or infection. In severe cases, communication is nearly impossible; in mild cases, only one language use aspect is impacted, such as the ability to recall the names of common objects, the ability to make sentences, or the ability to read.

In the majority of cases, however, many aspects of communication will be impaired, with limited exchanges of information being common. Your physician or that of your loved one will determine the level of remaining function within each channel for language comprehension. They will also assess the possibility that treatment could augment those available channels.

There are many types of aphasia, and those include:

  • Global
  • Broca’s
  • Wernicke’s
  • Anomic
  • Primary Progressive
  • Mixed Non-fluent aphasia

Those diagnosed with aphasia usually suffer from other conditions, as well, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or Parkinson’s disease. Many people with aphasia got it as a result of a stroke, according to Johns Hopkins. Both males and females are affected equally, and most are in middle to old age.

As we said earlier, we care for many aphasia patients within their homes as part of our home health care program. But if you or your loved one has been given less than six months to live, entry into hospice is the next step. Here, those aphasia symptoms can be well managed for comfort. The hospice care team first develops a plan for the patient, which shifts care from treatment to management of the disease, mostly with pain and symptom management as the main goal.

Caring For Your Loved One With Aphasia at Home

Aphasia care can occur within the home, with the help of family caregivers and a team of professional caregivers. Family members can be educated on techniques to help their loved one manage their health and navigate through this difficult time. You may not know how to best communicate with your loved one, as communication is severely compromised during this time.

Here are some tips:

  • Speak slower and use shorter sentences
  • Ask yes or no questions rather than open-ended questions
  • Reduce background noise
  • Limit distractions
  • Ask them to draw, point or write when they struggle to speak
  • Use pictures or gestures to get your message across
  • Give them time to speak and avoid finishing their sentences for them
  • Be patient and help when asked
  • Don’t patronize; instead, speak with your normal volume and tone, as the person’s intelligence is not affected
  • Join support groups
  • Explore treatment resources such as speech therapy which can help some patients recover some speech and language functions gradually over time

Non-verbal communication is key in living with an aphasia patient. You can use anything from a pen and paper to a dry-erase board to a computer to draw words, pictures, and sentences. Having these tools at the ready can provide a jumping-off point for the person to communicate a story or a point they want to make. Take your time, let them think, and try not to jump in and finish their thoughts. Their intelligence is intact and they know what they want to say, but they just can’t form the words.

As a family caregiver, you have to watch out for your own needs as well. This means self-care should be a priority for you so you can replenish your own energy as you work through the caregiving journey. Achieve this by making time for yourself. Listen to a podcast, read a book, take a bubble bath, go shopping, have a drink with friends, meditate, take a yoga class — whatever it is, make sure it’s just about you. Relax and recharge so you can return to your loved one with patience and compassion.

Your home healthcare team is here to pick up the slack while you practice self-care. They’re also there to maintain respect and dignity for the aphasia patient so it will be less stressful for them to effectively communicate their wants and needs.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Our caregivers and health care providers are well-versed in caring for aphasia patients within our home health care program. To learn more, please contact us at 888-978-1306.