Communicating with someone after they have had a stroke, brain injury, or other illness resulting in communication difficulties can be challenging. These difficulties can be either expressive (the ability to speak or communicate) or receptive (the ability to understand spoken or written information), leading to breakdowns in communication. Any changes in communication can lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, or distress. Making a few changes in the way you communicate can make a world of difference!
The following tips should be combined for the best results.
Ensure that you have the person's attention before starting to speak.
If you begin speaking before the person has given you their full attention, they miss integral parts of your message leading to decreased comprehension and increased frustration at this breakdown in communication. Try saying their name, tapping their shoulder or a surface, or another method to gain their attention prior to speaking.
Whenever possible, speak face to face and maintain eye contact.
To ensure the person with aphasia is following your conversation and is fully able to hear and comprehend what you are saying, facing them directly gives them your full attention as well.
Minimize background noise.
Too much sound can be distracting to anyone. This is even more crucial when hearing is impaired. Limit the amount of noise present during conversational speech and you may see increased participation or decreased breakdowns in conversation. Turning off the TV, sitting in a quiet corner in a restaurant, or pausing music are examples of this.
Keep your voice at a steady speaking level, unless indicated otherwise.
Raising your voice may lead to confusion. Even if the person does not understand the content of your message, they may be able to understand elements of the message given the tone you deliver it in. Sudden changes in vocal tones or volumes may lead to feelings of confusion or frustration. Instead, speak in a slow and steady tone without many changes in volume or pitch.
Reduce the complexity of vocabulary and sentence structures but speak at an adult level.
Focus on simplifying sentence structure and reducing the rate of speech. Don't speak to them in a way that would seem juvenile or infantilize them, and avoid using “baby talk.” Instead, try shortening your intended message or breaking it into chunks. This allows for increased comprehension and decreased phrase length.
Allow the person with aphasia time to express themselves.
Ensure you give ample opportunities and time to speak. Although it may be difficult, try not to finish their sentences. Give the person with aphasia time and opportunities to use different methods (gestures, pointing, speech, etc) to express themselves before you jump in to assist them.
Use yes/no questions to ensure exchanges are successful.
Use yes and no to your advantage. This can be a verbal yes/no, head nod, pointing to pictures indicating yes/no, or even written words. Taking the time to confirm that you, or the person with aphasia, are understanding the message will lead to more successful communicative interactions! Bonus: try using facial expressions or pictures to aid in repairing communication breakdowns as well.