Treating Aphasia

Aphasia happens when a part of the brain that processes language is damaged. Most people who have a stroke or a brain injury are tested for aphasia. A speech therapist (an expert trained in speech rehabilitation) will work closely with the patient. The main goal of speech therapy is to help the patient communicate. During rehabilitation (rehab), the therapist works to find and increase a patient’s strengths. The therapist also tries to improve understanding between patient and family.

Testing word use

The speech therapist wants to know if the patient understands questions and can answer correctly. The patient may be asked to answer yes-or-no questions, to say his or her name, and to name common objects. If a patient responds easily, the therapist listens for problems with speech patterns and content. Patients may also be asked to follow instructions. For instance, a patient may be told, “Open the book to page 5.” In some cases, reading, writing, and math skills may also be tested.

Improving communication

Rehab may focus on helping the patient use language again. Working with flash cards may help improve word skills. A patient may also be asked to name objects or find opposites. A speech therapist will help the patient find ways to work around lost language skills. In some cases, a patient may need to use a thumbs-up signal or eye blinks in place of saying yes or no. The family is often included in this part of rehab. Talk with the speech therapist about specific ways of working with your loved one.

Helping your loved one

If your loved one has aphasia, try these tips:

  • Praise any effort at speech that the person makes.

  • Try to understand made-up words that hold meaning for the person.

  • Speak slowly and clearly.

  • Use common words. But don’t talk down to the person.

  • Speak in simple sentences. Stick to one idea and one action.

  • Ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no.

  • Give the person time to understand and to respond.

  • Try not to speak for the person unless it is necessary.

  • Keep the person informed and involved. Do not speak as if the person isn’t there.