When Language Is Limited: Tips for Thriving with Aphasia

Communication is incredibly central to our human experience. We use language to express our wants and needs, to control our environment, to connect with others, and to tell each other how much we care. We rely on language to learn new things and to understand our world. The way we use language is even ingrained in our identities and self-concepts. When language skills are unexpectedly damaged or impaired, the impact on daily life can be monumental.

Aphasia is a language problem that can occur after a stroke or brain injury. People with aphasia can experience difficulty speaking, listening, reading, and/or writing. While therapy can help an individual improve language skills after an injury, many people with aphasia experience long-term difficulties.

There is a common mantra within the aphasia community: Aphasia is a loss of language, not intellect. We often judge intellect by a person’s communication skills, but people with aphasia typically retain their pre-injury intelligence, wisdom, and personalities. Although a language problem can shake an individual (as well as his or her family) to the core, it can be helpful to stay focused on all the aspects of identity that are not impacted by aphasia. And in turn, to participate in activities that help a person with aphasia continue to share their presence and unique gifts with the world.

Here are a few tips for not just surviving, but thriving with aphasia:

Stay Engaged

Find ways to continue the activities that are important to you, even if the experience is slightly different with aphasia. If it’s too difficult to curl up with a good book, try an audiobook. If you were an avid emailer, try sending e-cards with sweet prewritten messages. Creativity and an open mind go a long way in thriving with aphasia.

Stay Positive

Focus on progress and successes. Many people experience improvements in functional communication for years and years after the onset of aphasia. It can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the things that were lost and the activities that are challenging. Try to focus on your communication “wins”, no matter how large or small.

Stay Connected

Go to that party, make the phone calls to your loved ones (even if that means speaking less and focusing on being a good listener), wave and smile at neighbors and passersby. It can be helpful to teach your loved ones about aphasia and how they can best support you. The National Aphasia Association has some helpful tips that can help your loved ones support your communication.

Another way to stay connected is to try an aphasia support group. The speech language pathology department at Emerson Hospital is hosting a six-week Aphasia Conversation Group. This group provides an opportunity for people with aphasia to work on their communication skills in a fun and supportive environment. If you are living with aphasia, consider joining us for this series of meetings with special topics, including music and the arts, technology, community service and more. Sessions are highly interactive and are facilitated by a speech language pathologist. Call (978) 287-8246 or email codowling@emersonhosp.org to register! The cost is $100 for all six sessions, which will be held on the following days for the spring 2017 program: March 8, March 22, April 5, April 19, May 3, May 17.