Communicating with aphasics
Aphasia is a total or partial loss of the power to use or understand words. It is often the result of a stroke or other brain damage. Expressive aphasics are able to understand what you say; receptive aphasics are not. Some victims may have a bit of both kinds of the impediment. For expressive aphasics, trying to speak is like having a word "on the tip of your tongue" and not being able to call it forth. Some suggestions for communicating with individuals who have aphasia follow:
- Be patient and allow plenty of time to communicate with a person with aphasia;
- Be honest with the individual. Let him/her know if you can’t quite understand what he/she is telling you;
- Ask the person how best to communicate. What techniques or devices can be used to aid communication;
- Allow the aphasic to try to complete his/her thoughts, to struggle with words. Avoid being too quick to guess what the person is trying to express;
- Encourage the person to write the word he/she is trying to express and read it aloud;
- Use gestures or pointing to objects if helpful in supplying words or adding meaning;
- A pictogram grid is sometimes used. These are useful to "fill in" answers to requests such as "I need" or "I want." The person merely points to the appropriate picture;
- Use touch to aid in concentration, to establish another avenue of communication and to offer reassurance and encouragement.
Communicating with persons with Alzheimer’s Disease or related disorders
- Always approach the person from the front, or within his/her line of vision – no surprise appearances;
- Speak in a normal tone of voice and greet the person as you would anyone else;
- Face the person as you talk to him/her;
- Minimize hand movements that approach the other person;
- Avoid a setting with a lot of sensory stimulation, like a big room where many people may be sitting or talking, a high-traffic area or a very noisy place;
- Maintain eye contact and smile. A frown will convey negative feelings to a person;
- Be respectful of the person’s personal space and observant of his/her reaction as you move closer. Maintain a distance of one to one and a half feet initially;
- If a person paces, walk with him/her, in step with him/her while you talk;
- Use distraction if a situation looks like it may get out of hand. A couple of examples are: if the person is about to hit someone of if he/she is trying to leave the home/facility.
- Use a slow, low-pitched speaking voice which older adults hear best;
- Ask only one question at a time. More than one question will increase confusion;
- Repeat key words if the person does not understand the first time around; nod and smile only if what the person said is understood.