A patient and their family become aware of the communication challenges that the patient faces after aphasia is diagnosed. How can family members, friends and caregivers communicate with an aphasia sufferer using technology?
Aphasia in its various forms can affect the ability to speak, understand speech, read and write. However, intelligence and thinking skills are not impaired.
When you are interacting with an aphasia sufferer, you are interacting with an intelligent person.
A person who has aphasia needs stimulation, even though it sometimes looks otherwise. The brain is like a muscle – if you do not stimulate the brain it will eventually lose its abilities.
In addition, communication in itself is important, as it is one of the activities of daily living (ADLs). The person has to re-learn how to communicate, as well as perform the other ADLs, which will determine their ability to be an independent functioning adult.
Provision of speech therapy is the most widely used and most effective cure for aphasia.
Speech therapists as well as caregivers, family or friends can work with and communicate with the aphasia sufferer using speech devices and technologies and thereby provide the much needed stimulation.
Harnessing Technology for Communication with an Aphasia Sufferer
Here are a few ‘picks’ of the resources available on-line, for Assisted Technologies (AT) and Augmentative and Alternative Communication(AAC).
- The National Aphasia Association lists a collection of Aphasia Apps which are assistive technologies for aphasia sufferers. The platforms that support the technologies include: tablet, smartphone, iPod touch, iPhone, iPad, Web, iOS and Android mobile devices, phone, tablet and computer with connection. Some technologies are reimbursable by Medicare.
- The Stroke Association – Computer Aids and Computer -Based Therapy
- Lingraphica – This site provides resources for stroke survivors and lists Communications Devices that are suitable for different lifestyles, as well as a collection of Free Apps
- AbilityTools presents assistive technologies devices, including a talking photo album as well as other mid-tech options.
- Gus Communication Devices offers a selection of speech software including a wearable AAC device.
Devices without any Special Technology
Without any highly developed apps, you can still use your phone or device as a communication resource: by video, by pointing to images of people or objects, by playing recorded sounds and songs to facilitate activities.
Remember, that when communicating with a person who has aphasia, the pressure must be low. Your accepting attitude will help as well.
Tips for Communicating Effectively and Being Sensitive
- Be aware that one of the effects of brain damage may be ’emotional lability’ in which a person might express themselves in an emotionally uncontrolled, spontaneous outburst. If the person is aware of their behavior and they apologize, remind the person that it was a stroke-related symptom, in order to minimize the embarrassment. Continue the activity or discussion in a natural manner.
- In in-person conversation or in communication via a device, always give the person plenty of time to respond. Be careful not to complete the phrase or sentence for them.
- Ask closed-ended questions, those questions are easier to answer and a simple or one-word answer is required.
- Give encouraging feedback. You should do so using words and gestures.
- Talk normally, without raising your voice, just talk more slowly and simply.
- Communicate at a time and place when it is quieter and there are less background noises or distractions.
- Behave with your loved one in a normal manner, even if their efforts at communicating look disturbing. Since the facial muscles are not as strong as they were before the incident which brought the aphasia, vocal sounds might be distorted. In some cases other conditions exist, such as dysphagia, a swallowing disorder.
Hoping for a Better Tomorrow
If the aphasia was caused by a stroke, as is common, a patient can hope for an improvement in the first few weeks after the event. The improvements will probably continue in the months and even years after the stroke. The earlier and the more the person’s brain is stimulated, it seems it is better for their chances of recovery. The efforts of the family, friends and caregivers to communicate with an aphasia sufferer using technology and in person will do wonders to boost their feelings of well being after the stroke or injury, and help in their personal recovery.