The Challenge of Aphasia Post-Stroke

When a stroke damages the communication and language areas of the brain, the stroke patient may experience aphasia, which is a disorder that affects the ability to speak, read, write, or understand. Aphasia may affect people in many different ways and to varying degrees, depending on the part of the brain affected and the degree of damage.

Types of aphasia

A person with receptive aphasia (Wernicke’s aphasia) may say non-words (like “gleeble”) or string together words into a meaningless sentence. Wernicke’s aphasia includes difficulty reading, writing, and understanding spoken words. 

People with expressive aphasia (Broca’s aphasia) may have trouble creating sentences or stringing more than four words together, although they may be able to get their point across (“dog walk” could mean “I want to walk the dog” or “the dog needs to be walked”). They are aware of their limited speech, which can be very frustrating. They generally can read and understand speech but have difficulty writing. 

Anomic aphasia results in the inability to think of and say the words they want to talk about, such as trying to tell someone to put something on the table but not being able to think of the word “table”. The inability to supply the right word also occurs when the person is trying to write. 

Conduction aphasia is difficulty in repeating words and sentences, even though the person can understand them and can otherwise speak fluently. 

Primary progressive aphasia occurs over time, possibly over a period of years, in which the person gradually loses the ability to read, write, speak, and understand others. 

Global aphasia is the general inability to form words and sentences and the inability to understand them. 

How to help a person with aphasia

Aphasia is extremely frustrating for a person to deal with, and it can be almost as frustrating for friends and family. A patient experiencing any kind of aphasia should receive speech therapy and additional language therapies as needed to help lessen the aphasia or prevent it from worsening. 

It is important for the stroke patient’s loved ones to find ways to communicate with the patient. There are many technologies available to support aphasia patients to communicate better, but there are also simple non-technological ways.

For instance, ask yes/no questions. Paraphrase and repeat frequently to help your loved one stay in the conversation. Speak slowly and use words you know your loved one understands. Use flashcards with pictures of activities or items that can help your loved one express himself. Gestures and signs help to emphasize and clarify what you are trying to say – for instance, pretending to brush your teeth when you are suggesting this. Make sure there are few distractions when trying to hold a conversation. 

Technology can really help enhance communication for some people, especially those who can read to some extent but have trouble speaking in coherent sentences. Apps for the phone, tablet, or desktop can convert words into speech. Some programs may include pictures that are translated into speech or sentences when clicked. 

Additional technology such as the simple online calendar can be set to provide pop-up reminders to take medication, wish someone a happy birthday, or feed the dog. And there are many software programs and websites dedicated to strengthening memory and cognitive skills. 

Communication therapy

The therapy a person with aphasia receives should be customized to the person’s needs. Impairment-based therapies work to repair the damage that has been done, retraining the brain to communicate again. Some types of therapy are very intensive, others are less so. One type of therapy even uses melodic intonation, because some people can actually sing what they cannot say. 

But as the therapy sessions are usually limited to only a few times a week and sometimes less, the patient and caregivers need to work at home. Therapy is often augmented by specific computer software used at home to continue to develop word-finding skills and comprehension. 

Building back communication

Don’t guess which methods of communication will work best with your loved one. Talk to speech-language pathologists and get guidance on the best methods and the best technology. Whatever you do at home needs to support and build on the work being done at therapy, so team up with your loved one’s medical providers. 

You will also want to make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent another stroke. Talk to the patient’s medical team about what changes need to take place to reduce the risk of stroke. And ask them about adding Neuralert’s stroke detection wristband to your loved one’s health program. Our stroke-detection technology is an important safeguard that provides an early warning signal at the onset of a stroke. Our state-of-the-art, AI-driven wristband looks like a smartwatch and can detect warning signs of a stroke within minutes. Early stroke treatment saves lives and can often prevent or limit long-term side effects. Talk to your loved one’s doctor about Neuralert.