10 Tips for Communicating with People with Aphasia

Updated: Jun 11

Have you ever heard of the word ‘aphasia’, and wondered what it means? You’re not alone. Research shows that public awareness and understanding of aphasia in Australia is low, and this affects research, funding, and opportunities for people living with this communication impairment. So what is aphasia?

Aphasia is the result of brain damage (frequently after a stroke), that affects a person’s ability to: 

  1. Understand language

  2. Speak

  3. Read

  4. Write 

  5. Use gestures

There are many different types of aphasia, each of which result in different challenges for the person with aphasia and their communication partners. Aphasia affects every person differently, ranging from mild to severe communication difficulties. 

Some people experience significant word-finding difficulties, resulting in word errors or large pauses between words. Others may have difficulty understanding what has been said, or be unable to use the right words in sentences, making it hard to put sentences together that make sense to the listener. 

Studies suggest that approximately 1 in 240 people in Australia suffer from some form of aphasia. Every person with aphasia has their own thoughts, opinions, emotions, and ideas, and frequently knows what they want to say. The difficult, and often frustrating part, is trying to get it out.

Here are 10 general tips to help you to communicate with somebody with aphasia:

  1. Remember that a language impairment does not mean someone is intellectually impaired! Speak to the person with aphasia in a tone appropriate to any other adult conversation. Try not to sound condescending or patronising. 

  2. Talk in a clear voice and at an appropriate speed (and remember; clear does not have to mean excessively loud!)

  3. Talk TO the person with aphasia. Try not to direct your conversation or questions solely to their companions, partners, or carers, but instead, keep the person with aphasia involved. 

  4. Face the person you’re speaking to and use body language, facial expressions, and expressive voices. 

  5. Use appropriately short, simple sentences that keep to the point or topic.

  6. When asking questions or offering choices, try breaking them down into one or two options at a time. Where possible, phrase questions so that they can be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. 

  7. Everyone appreciates being understood. Confirm your understanding if you’re not sure you’ve got it! This can be as simple as repeating what the person has said, or saying, ‘Let me make sure I understand you correctly…’

  8. Give the person with aphasia time to respond. Be aware that this can take longer than you expect, but it’s extremely important. 

  9. Try not to ‘over-help’ the person with aphasia by ‘guessing’ what they’re trying to say. You can help the person with word finding where necessary, but remember that we all have a right to communicate. Try not to speak for a person with aphasia all the time. 

  10. Take time to learn about aphasia! Increasing awareness and understanding of aphasia leads to improved well-being and better access to community support for those affected by it. 

Written by Jo

Certified Practising Speech Pathologist 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Here are some links to further information:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=zjkgSCIXo3k&feature=emb_title

https://aphasia.org.au/