More than one million people in the United States have aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association (NAA). And, while aphasia can impact anyone, the majority of people living with this communication condition are middle-aged or older. Caring for someone with aphasia is a challenge, but there are some things you can do to make the situation easier. Read on for more information on aphasia, along with coping techniques for caregivers.
Has your aging loved one recently received an aphasia diagnosis?
Aphasia is not a disease, but a disorder resulting from damage to the brain's language center. While stroke is a common cause of aphasia, resulting in 25 to 40 percent of occurrences, aphasia is also seen in people with brain tumors, head trauma, infections, and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. As the senior population continues to increase, the number of people living with aphasia in this country is expected to skyrocket.
The NAA defines aphasia as "an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write." It can range in severity from very mild to severe in which communicating with the individual is nearly impossible. Aphasia is most commonly seen across multiple modes of communication, although it can sometimes affect just one component of language, such as putting words together, reading, or retrieving the names of things.
Treatment for people with aphasia is customized to meet each individual's unique needs. Ask your aging loved one's healthcare team about speech disorder treatment options, many of which are covered by major health care plans. While some people recover from aphasia without treatment, others can improve with the help of a speech-language pathologist.
Caregiver Coping Tips for Individuals with Aphasia
Because aphasia does not affect intelligence, it can be particularly frustrating for patients and caregivers alike. These tips can help you overcome the challenges and provide the best care.
- Refrain from speaking in a patronizing way. Use your normal speaking tone and volume when communicating with someone with aphasia, as well as with people with dementia. Advise others, including family members and caregivers, to do the same.
- Promote a sense of control and connection in individuals with aphasia by inviting their opinions on everything from current events to family matters. Encouraging them to participate in activities, such as book clubs or aphasia support groups, can help build self-esteem and confidence.
- Simple forms of communication, such as "yes" and "no" questions are most effective. Limit distractions, such as the television and radio, and allow the individual ample time to respond via their preferred method of doing so. If speech fails, welcome other approaches, such as gesturing.
- Be patient and stay calm. The more supportive you are, the more comfortable the individual will be while attempting to communicate with you.
- Computers can be an invaluable way to convey information. They can also help seniors struggling with aphasia stay engaged with the world around them. The latest speech-generating mobile applications further enhance the way technology can improve the quality of life of people with aphasia.
When words fail, other forms of communication succeed.
Unfortunately, it's all too easy to take the ability to communicate through language for granted until it's gone. By understanding aphasia and following these caregiver coping tips, you can provide the very best care while helping your loved one adjust to aphasia and maintain a fulfilling quality of life.
mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs, including more useful information on communicating with someone with dementia and additional information on continuing education for caregivers.