Supportive Communication for Adults with Aphasia

A woman practices Supportive Communication for Adults with Aphasia.

If you have a loved one with aphasia, it’s not uncommon to feel confused and helpless in your search for tools and strategies to connect with them. Thankfully, there are strategies you can use to better communicate with your loved one who may have difficulties speaking or understanding language.

We’ll discuss what aphasia is and how you can use an approach known as communication partner training to improve dialogue with your loved one.

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is an acquired language disorder that can impact your ability to speak, understand language, read, and/or write. Aphasia is most commonly caused by a stroke affecting the left hemisphere of the brain, although it can be caused by other forms of brain trauma such as a brain tumor.

Presentations vary widely between individuals. People with aphasia may experience one or many of the described symptoms to varying degrees. Symptoms and prognosis are frequently linked to the site of lesion in the brain and severity of brain trauma.

Aphasia significantly affects the daily lives of survivors and their loved ones. Ramifications are felt throughout personal, social, vocational, and recreational aspects of life and can impact personal identity and self-concept, interpersonal relationships, autonomy, roles and responsibilities, and social access.

Sadly, many people living with aphasia experience decreased quality of life including social isolation, loneliness, restrictive activities, loss of autonomy, and stigmatization due to impairments and limitations in their ability to communicate.

Aphasia Treatment Approaches

Treatment for aphasia has been extensively researched and is effective. Intervention typically focuses on ameliorating specific language skills of the person with aphasia. Communication Partner Training (sometimes called Supportive Conversation for Adults with Aphasia), which we explain below, is an intervention directed at people other than the individual living with aphasia.

The purpose is to improve communicative participation and confidence of those living with aphasia. It involves the use of communication supports and strategies designed to increase access to and opportunities for meaningful interactions.

Strategies for Supportive Conversations for Adults with Aphasia

Acknowledgement of Competence: People with aphasia often report that, due to their communication impairments, they are perceived as incompetent and are consequently denied opportunities to participate in important life events. This has a direct impact on psycho-social well-being. Therefore, acknowledgement of communicative competence is imperative. You can achieve this by:

  • Using humor, appropriate tone of voice, and making conversation sound normal and adult.
  • Acknowledging any frustrations the person with aphasia may be experiencing
  • Explicitly attributing communication breakdowns to one’s own limitations as a communicator (humor!)
  • Verbally acknowledging the person with aphasia knows what they want to say.

Reveal Competence: Ensure the person with aphasia can comprehend information by doing the following:

  • Using short simple sentences
  • Using gestures, written key words, drawings, or other materials to ensure the topic of conversation is clearly understood.
  • Eliminating distractions (e.g., noises, too much visual stimuli, other people)
  • Asking one thing at a time
  • Ensuring the person with aphasia can respond and/or express what they know, how they feel, their opinion by:
    • Asking them if they can give you clues by describing, showing, pointing, gesturing etc.
    • Asking yes/no questions
    • Providing fixed choice questions
    • Providing adequate time to respond
    • Providing different avenues to respond, e.g., access to written responses, pictures

Verify Responses: Make sure you have correctly understood the person with aphasia’s message by summarizing, reflecting or expanding what has been communicated using writing, gestures, and images as needed

Keep a Written Log: Keep a written log of conversations you can review.

Contact Open Lines today by phone at (212) 430-6800, by email at info@OpenLinesNY.com, or through our contact form. If you are ready to take the next steps with speech and language therapy services, you can request an appointment to discuss your goals and review service options.