Sunday, July 13, 2014

How to Be a Good Friend to Someone with Aphasia

The estimated number of people in the United States who have acquired aphasia, a language disorder caused by a head injury or a stroke, is over one million people. That's one in every two-hundred-and-fifty people. It affects individuals in all age brackets and chances are you either know someone who has aphasia or you will know someone in the future.
Not being able to communicate in the normal way brings on a devastating sense of isolation for people with this disorder and it often causes severe depression. Learning the basic, common sense tips listed below can prevent you from unknowingly adding to your friend's loneliness and dejection.

1) Don't stop calling your friend on the telephone. Just because he or she has difficulty talking doesn't mean your friend has lost interest in hearing about what is going on in your life. It may be hard, at first, to carry on a lopsided conversation but stopping your regular pattern of contact will only adds to your friend's isolation.

2) When making a social engagement over the phone, or planning a visit with someone with aphasia, confirm those plans with their spouse, significant other or caregiver. It may be hard-to-impossible for your friend to repeat those plans to the person who will need to know about them. Don't add extra stress to their relationship by not confirming your engagement or visit with both parties involved. What will only take you seconds to convey may take your friend hours to get across.

3) When seeing your friend in person, talk directly to him or her and not through someone else in the family. There are many types of aphasia but in most cases, people with aphasia can understand everything that is being said to them. Remember that the inability to processing language in and/or out usually has nothing to do with loss of intelligence. Treat your friend as an adult, not a child. If processing language in seems to be a problem, then allowing a few moments in between your sentences can help.

4) Whenever possible eliminate as much background noise as you can when conversing with your friend. Distractions from radios, televisions or other conversations going on near-by makes it harder for the people with aphasia to process language. If you need to repeat yourself in situations where background noises can't be eliminated, try to phrase your sentence the exact, same way the second time.

5) Don't call attention to or correct grammatical errors and poor articulation if the basic message is understandable. You are a friend, not their speech therapist or a close family member who knows what a therapist may have assigned for homework. Most people with aphasia are embarrassed enough about their diction, slurred words or inability to find the right words. Just getting their words out is often a major accomplishment. So be proud of your friend's efforts and remember that what you may think of as 'help' may seem like criticism to your friend.

6) When your friend is trying to get a sentence or word out, listen attentively and don't vocalize the word/s that you think he or she is trying to say. Give your friend plenty of time to get those words out without your help. If you guess wrong while he or she is still trying, you will break your friend's concentration and cause more frustration. If your friend had the word on the tip of the tongue, ready to come out, you will annoy him or her without meaning to.

7) Humor is usually a welcome commodity to lighten interaction with someone with aphasia. Don't be afraid to use it so long as you remember that the goal is to laugh with your friend and not at him or her.

8) A person with aphasia often gets more withdrawn in a group setting. Encourage participate in group conversations by occasionally asking him or her questions that have yes/no answers. Your inclusion will make him or her feel more a part of the gathering without the embarrassment of having to come up with a lot of speech.

9) Successful communication comes in many forms including gestures and facial expressions as well as the spoken words. Pay attention to your friend's body language.

10) The loss of friendships is one of the hardest parts about getting acquired aphasia. Don't let your own self consciousness keep you away. Relax and just be the same person you've always been around your friend.

Aphasia is a disability that has been in the closet far too long. People dealing with this disorder need the general population to understand that aphasia is truly just a communication disorder and not a mental retardation. If you take nothing more away from this article than this fact, that will be a HUGE help to all people with aphasia. ©

NOTE: There are links up above the title line if you wish to e-mail this article to someone or to print it out for yourself. Feel free to post a link back to this article, if you wish, but do NOT copy and paste the entire article onto another website without the written permission of the author.

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