Aphasia Communication and the Holidays

The holidays can be a great time to relax, entertain, and catch up with friends and family. It can also be a stressful time–cleaning the house, buying gifts, making meals, and organizing schedules. For families with aphasia, it’s important to talk about expectations before the merriment begins. Many well-intentioned relatives and friends may not be educated about how to communicate with the person with aphasia. These suggestions will not apply to everyone, but can be a good general guideline.

Groups of people talking make it harder to join in. People with all types and severities of aphasia have a hard time understanding when there are many people talking at one time and when the conversation is fast. Ask one person speak at a time, to slow down their speech a little and to add some pauses. This will allow comprehension to catch up.In a group situation, the person with aphasia may not realize that someone is speaking directly to them. Ask speakers to address your loved one by name to get their attention before asking questions. “Tom, (pause) how was the trip?” Remember, if your loved one didn’t enjoy socializing or small talk before the stroke, chances are that aphasia will magnify his/her discomfort. Don’t force him/her to socialize with everyone.

The person with aphasia may need time to formulate a response to conversation. This may be too slow for other people, leaving your loved wanting to interact but missing the window. This can be very discouraging for people with aphasia. Show guests how to wait for a response. After asking a question, pause for his/her response. When you think you’ve waited long enough, wait longer. Unless he/she has not heard the question, do not repeat it while he’s still processing the first question. This will just cause confusion and a longer delay. Ask “do you need to hear it again?” if you sense that your loved one needs help.

All people with aphasia have difficulty speaking on demand and under pressure. Discourage family from saying “Tell grandma what you just told me!” In the excitement of hearing the person with aphasia successfully communicate, some people will want them to show off. This typically doesn’t end well as the person with aphasia is now ‘on the spot’ and can feel embarrassed that he can’t say it again.

Remember that the person with aphasia is expending tremendous energy to understand and to communicate. Concentrating can be exhausting. Some people shut down when there is too much coming at them at one time. Let your loved one know that he/she can go rest in quiet if needed to re-energize.

Talk with your loved one ahead of time to determine how or if they will want help during interactions. You only want to jump in when needed, giving your loved one the opportunity to become more independent. Have a pen and paper ready for family to write key words and for the person with aphasia to use writing or drawing to help communicate.

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About Dr. Bartels

Dr. Bartels is the owner of The Aphasia Center Intensive Aphasia Programs. She helps families with aphasia through communication training, personalized treatment plans and customized home programs.