After a stroke — finding the right words
June is National Aphasia Awareness Month
It’s common to struggle at times to find the right word during a conversation. But for an individual who has had a stroke, finding the right word may be much more difficult.
Aphasia can be a side effect of a stroke, which can affect a person’s ability to communicate by impairing the ability to speak, read, listen or write. It doesn’t affect intelligence, however. When a person with aphasia has word-finding difficulty, it’s called anomia. Anomia is a common symptom of aphasia that makes it difficult to find the words or ideas that a person may wish to share.
“Anomia can be really frustrating for individuals because they know what they want to say, but they just can’t find the words,” says Kelly Smith, Speech Pathologist at Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. “It can make a conversation difficult because sometimes the word will come and sometimes it won’t.”
There are various causes to word-finding problems in patients with aphasia, and they may present differently. For example, one person may not be clear on the meaning of a word so he or she may not be able to complete an errand that requires knowing what the word means. Another person may not be able to identify a family member or name an item in a photo. And another may know a word and recognize it in print, but may not be able to pronounce the sounds to say it, or an individual may say a word that’s a little bit off from the right word (i.e. poon versus spoon).
“When these types of things happen in a conversation, the person who is speaking to the stroke survivor may want to jump in quickly to supply the word,” Smith says. “But in reality, that can be more of a hindrance than a help. It would be more beneficial to help the person find the word they are looking for rather than supplying it.”
To best communicate with someone under these circumstances, Smith provides the following suggestions:
Be patient. Allow plenty of time for a response. Talk with the individual, not for him or her.
Give the person time to respond and don’t rush him or her.
Ask “yes” or “no” questions that can be answered simply and without a lot of explanation.
Ask questions that can help zone in on what the individual wanted to say. For example, if you were talking about flowers, ask “Is it in our yard?”
Use photographs or pictures to help provide cues.
Write your cues – such as a letter or a drawing – on a piece of paper to share.
Confirm and repeat back what the person has said. Use paraphrases or key words to be sure that you’re understanding properly.
Use gestures as you ask questions.
“The most important thing is to not ‘talk down’ to an individual,” Smith says. “Be respectful and provide emotional support showing that you recognize that the person knows what he or she wants to say. And remember that every word doesn’t have to be perfect, so downplay errors. Not all words need to be said perfectly to communicate.”
June is National Aphasia Awareness Month. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 928-775-7882.
Information provided by Mountain Valley Regional Rehabilitation Hospital.