Many family members, friends, and caregivers report difficulty talking to their loved ones with aphasia. But when you have aphasia, it’s more important than ever to have conversations!
Here are a few tips for how to talk to a stroke survivor with communication difficulties.
Patience is everything – this is the most important tip! People with aphasia often need extra time to think of the right words or process what you’ve said. Stay engaged, keep eye contact, but stay quiet. Make sure you’re talking with the person, rather than for them. If you try to finish their sentences, it can be very frustrating and make it even more difficult for them to get their words out. Be comfortable with silence and be patient.
Use Visual Cues
Since comprehension can be affected, visual cues are extremely helpful to add context to the conversation. Some examples of visual cues are facial expressions, gestures, pointing, using pictures, actual objects, and writing down key words. This will help connect the visual information (what they see) to the auditory information (what they hear).
Face-to-Face is Best
If possible, talk in a quiet environment where you can see each other face-to-face. This way, you can use facial expressions, gestures, and other visual cues to facilitate conversation. Talking on the phone tends to be difficult, but a video call or FaceTime can be easier. Reduce distractions by turning off the TV, closing doors, and keeping background noise to a minimum.
Don’t Talk Loudly (unless the person is hard of hearing)
Stroke survivors may have trouble understanding, but talking louder doesn’t help. It’s not that the person has difficulty hearing you – their ears are fine! The problem is that their brain has difficulty interpreting auditory information. Allow extra time for processing instead. It can also help to break up your long thoughts into shorter, more direct statements.
Talk About the Here and Now
Talking about the “here and now” tends to be easiest because the immediate environment often provides more context for your conversation. You are also looking at the same things and can point or gesture to objects in the room. It is more cognitively demanding to discuss abstract concepts (ex: past/future, hypothetical situations). However, visual cues – such as a calendar, a picture, or writing key words can help.
Don’t pretend to understand what your loved one is saying if you aren’t quite getting it. Acknowledge their attempt, but tell them you haven’t quite figured out what they’re trying to say. Confirm the parts that you do understand, and ask if they can give you any more information. If they’re having trouble, you can ask questions (remember to pause and be patient after each one) or offer multiple choice options. When you think you understand, confirm with your loved one.
The National Aphasia Association and the American Heart Association teamed up to make a great one-page poster with communication tips. Print this out and put it on your fridge to help you remember how to talk to your loved one after a stroke.
Do you have more tips? Let us know!