This month is brain injury month. Let’s talk about one type of brain injury that is very common, but that most people haven’t heard of—aphasia. Aphasia is actually more common than Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. But most people have never heard of it.
What is brain injury?
Brain injury can affect a person in many ways. It can impair cognitive abilities, physical functioning and behavioral or emotional functioning.
- Cognitive abilities: memory loss, slowed ability to process information, trouble concentrating, organizational problems, poor judgment and difficulty initiating activities.
- Physical functioning: seizures, muscle spasticity, fatigue, headaches and balance problems.
- Emotional/behavioral functioning: depression, mood swings, anxiety, impulsivity and agitation.
What is aphasia?
Aphasia is one type of brain injury that you cannot see. That’s why it’s called “the silent disability.” Aphasia is usually a result of a stroke. Most strokes are caused when the arteries leading to the brain are suddenly blocked. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. Depending which brain cells die, stroke survivors will lose different abilities.
Over 1 million people in the United States have aphasia according to the National Aphasia Association. Aphasia is a language impairment that happens when the language center of the brain is damaged from a stroke or hemorrhage. Because of this damage, someone with aphasia has difficulty finding appropriate words and building grammatically correct sentences.
Speech and language therapist help people with aphasia by restoring as much language as possible. They teach them how to compensate for lost language skills and finding other methods of communicating.
The National Aphasia Association lists eight forms of aphasia. Aphasia can be so severe that communication with the person is almost impossible, or it can be very mild. Sometimes, a single aspect of language is affected. Perhaps the person can’t retrieve the names of objects. Or put words together to make a sentence. Sometimes, the the words he strings together aren’t related at all. Usually, several aspects of communication are affected.
Communicating with aphasia patients
- Keep communication simple, but adult. Don’t talk down to someone with aphasia. Just because a person cannot speak, doesn’t mean he can’t understand. Using simple sentences and talking slowly will make it easier for someone with aphasia to understand you.
- Do minimize or eliminate background noise like the TV or radio.
- Be an attentive listener. Do listen patiently when someone with aphasia is struggling to find the right words. Don’t finish his sentences.
- Use visual aids. Seeing things in writing helps. Instead of telling someone with aphasia about an invitation, show it to him. Instead of telling him what to buy at the store, give him a written list. You can also WhatsApp information.
- Do write down keywords while speaking.
- Don’t be shy to use gestures and exaggerate your facial expressions.