Problems with communication and language are very common after a stroke. The term aphasia refers to the loss of spoken language, comprehension, and reading and writing. While dysphasia refers to a partial loss of these communication skills, in the United States the term aphasia is generally used for the varying degrees of language impairment.
Approximately one-third of stroke victims develop aphasia. Studies suggest that half of those who experience right-side paralysis due to stroke will experience language difficulties while those with left-side paralysis after a stroke are less likely, because of the location of the language processing centers in the brain.
Traditional therapy for aphasia
While the majority of improvement seems to take place within the first 6 weeks as inflammation decreases, the improvement may also be connected to intense language therapy. Speech therapy, offered as soon as possible after the stroke, is a critical part of the recovery process. Studies show beyond a doubt that those patients who receive speech therapy see significantly more improvement in their ability to communicate than those patients who do not receive therapy. Studies suggest that more sessions or longer sessions can also contribute to faster or greater improvement.
Unfortunately, therapy tends to drop off after about two months, which some researchers are finding may be a mistake. A longer-term approach to speech and language therapy could provide continued improvement.
Additional strategies for improving communication skills
Some studies have attempted to determine how much social support or stimulation helps language improvement, but because of their unstructured nature, there has been difficulty drawing strong conclusions. However, as with any other aspect of brain health, frequent stimulation is always a good thing. Going to speech therapy and then returning to an environment where the patient is rarely interacted with will not aid the return of language skills.
Music has also been studied as an aid to speech return. Researchers in Finland followed stroke patients who listened to music with lyrics, instrumental music, and audiobooks for at least one hour a day for three months. The researchers measured the patients’ improvement in language skills post-stroke and looked at the actual changes in their brain structures.
While it is known that certain music does help in brain development, the researchers found that patients who listened to music with lyrics (music that the stroke patient actually liked) saw significant growth in the language centers of their brains, which correlated to noticeable improvements in their communication skills. The audiobooks did not have the same effect on the brains of stroke patients.
It is believed that, since language and music processing utilize common neural networks, by combining the two in sung music, the various parts of the brain are engaged and strengthened. Therefore, regularly listening to lyric music may further enhance the return of language skills.
Coping mechanisms as language returns
Limited communication can be extremely frustrating, which can create emotional and psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and anger that may slow recovery. Therefore, it’s important to include some coping mechanisms to help ease the frustration.
These coping mechanisms will depend heavily on what the person can and cannot do. If some language skills have returned, there are many options. If writing is easier, keep a notebook and write down what you’re trying to say. If it’s sometimes hard to think of words, a list of common everyday words that the person can point to may help. For instance, if a caregiver wants to know what the recovering person wants to eat, he or she could point to something on a list of foods. And some people actually find they can sing words that they can’t say.
Caregivers, friends, and family also need to be prepared to make some modifications. For instance, give the person recovering from a stroke time to answer in order to enter into a conversation. Ask direct questions and wait.
We at Neuralert encourage all stroke patients to never give up in the pursuit of full recovery. We also encourage stroke patients to make whatever lifestyle and dietary changes are necessary because 25% of stroke patients will have another stroke in their lifetimes.
Vigilance is key to protecting one’s health in the case of another stroke. The Neuralert stroke detection system incorporates state-of-the-art AI technology with a smart wristband that can signal medical professionals when the most common sign of stroke – asymmetrical arm movement – first appears.
Quick treatment decreases the severity of the effects of stroke. Ask your healthcare providers about Neuralert as part of your or your loved one’s road to full recovery.