Being unable to communicate with an aging loved one can be a terrifying experience for both older adult and concerned family member. It can be difficult to know what to do when a parent or grandparent begins to mix up words and confuse phrases, but you’re not alone.
One million Americans and their families are affected by aphasia, the acquired communication disorder that impairs the ability to process language.
Aphasia is a senior healthcare issue that you and your loved one can face head on.
What is aphasia?
Aphasia is the general term for any communication disorder that is caused by damage to the language centers of the brain. It is important to note that while aphasia does result from brain damage, it does not affect intelligence.
Aphasia can present in three basic ways:
- Expressive. Your loved one knows what they want to say, but have trouble communicating their thoughts in speech or writing.
- Receptive. An individual hears conversations and sees printed sentences, but can't make sense of the words.
- Global. Total breakdown of communicative abilities. Seniors with global aphasia can't find the right words to speak or write and has trouble understanding the spoken or written word.
What causes aphasia?
Brain injury can have a number of causes from head trauma to tumors. We sometimes see older adults in assisted living communities develop aphasia as the structure of their brain changes with the progression of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
However, the most common cause of aphasia among older adults is stroke.
How do I treat a loved one living with aphasia?
Because aphasia can result from a stroke or dementia, some seniors with aphasia will need to undergo rehabilitation or long-term care at a skilled nursing or assisted living community. Don’t let this stop you from spending time with your loved one.
Family members and friends can use these simple steps to make communication easier for a loved one with aphasia—whether they’re living at home or an assisted living community.
- Don’t talk down to a person with aphasia. While it may be difficult for an older adult with aphasia to communicate their thoughts or keep track of a conversation, they are thinking and feeling individuals who will likely appreciate being pandered to as much as a senior with unimpaired speech faculties would.
- Make sure you have the full attention of your loved one. Don’t try carrying on a conversation when a senior with aphasia isn’t focused on you. Eliminate background noises and distractions before communicating.
- Allow seniors with aphasia to speak for themselves. They may need more time or to utilize nontraditional forms of communication, but older adults with aphasia deserve to express their thoughts and opinions, especially when it comes to family decisions and their own care.
- Try to make any attempt at communication a pleasant experience. Constantly pointing out or correcting speech can be frustrating for a senior with aphasia, so downplay mistakes and avoid criticisms, however constructively you intend them.
- Foster a more independent senior lifestyle. Don’t try to shelter a loved one from their condition, and don’t exclude them from social events “for their own good.” Seniors with aphasia can easily feel isolated by their condition and continued participation in regular activities should be encouraged as much as possible.
- Keep communication simple but adult. You should speak slowly and use simple sentence, repeating statements when necessary, but there’s no reason to shout or indulge in baby talk.
- Encourage the use of nontraditional forms of communication. If your loved one has a difficult time following a verbal conversation try engaging them in alternative forms of communication like writing, drawing, signs and gestures, or facial expressions.
Image Credit: orchmid