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Let’s Talk About Aphasia

By Kaylee Torok

Have you or a loved one experienced a stroke or head injury and now have difficulty communicating? Along with all of the challenges a stroke or head injury can bring, having trouble finding your words or understanding others can lead to frustration. All too often we see this frustration lead to reduced participation in conversation and social isolation.

A language disorder following a stroke or head injury is also known as aphasia. There are several types of aphasia (e.g., Broca’sWernickes, mixed, etc.) that affect how a person communicates, including expressing and/or understanding thoughts and ideas. It can impact the way a person speaks, understands, reads, and/or writes. Individuals with aphasia are still able to communicate, however the modalities may vary. Often as treatment progresses, the communication modality changes. For instance, in the acute phase, pointing or use of gestures is common. This may transition into single-word response with varying intonation (e.g., “no!” v. “no?”).

As speech-language pathologists, we see how frustrating it can be for both the individual with aphasia and communication partners. With the education and training, we are able to teach individuals and loved ones the strategies to make communication exchanges more fluid and functional.

Communication Partner Strategies:

  1. Speak slowly and shorten your sentences.
  2. Be patient. Allow extra time for the person to respond.
  3. Do not finish sentences or try to interrupt.
  4. Ask them if they want help finding a word.
  5. Eliminate or reduce distractions as much as possible.
  6. Talk one-on-one. Speaking in groups increases difficulty.
  7. Stay on one topic at a time.
  8. Incorporate visuals or pictures.
  9. Maintain normal level of loudness during conversation.
  10. Be respectful and understanding.

Aphasia affects communication and NOT intellect.

Word Finding Strategies for Individuals with Aphasia:

  1. Delayed response.
  2. Give yourself some time for the word to come out. Be patient with yourself and also ask your communication partner to give you some time.
  3. Describe what you are thinking of.
  4. This gives information about the word you’re thinking of including what it looks like or what it does. Describing can help them understand what you are talking about and even might help you think of the word!
  5. Use an association.
  6. Try to think of something that is related to what you are thinking of. For example, if I am trying to say the word ‘hammer’, I may think of the word ‘nail.’ This can help the word pop out or convey the meaning to the listener.
  7. Use synonyms.
  8. Try thinking of a word that is similar or means the same thing.
  9. Use the first letter.
  10. Write or think of the first letter of the word. To help with this, scan through the alphabet to see if a letter triggers anything. For example, if I were trying to think of the word, ‘paper.’ I might scan the alphabet and know it begins with the letter ‘p.’
  11. Use gestures.
  12. This is just like playing charades! Use your hands or body language to act out the word.
  13. Draw.
  14. Visuals can help retrieve words. Draw out a picture of what you’re trying to say.
  15. Identify the topic.
  16. Give the general category of the word you’re thinking of. Doing so, can provide context to the listener to know what you are communicating.

Downloads – Free PDF Handouts