Does it ever feel like you are learning to speak a new language when you are trying to talk about having a stroke? When you are navigating a brand new path of healing and recovery for yourself or a loved one, the last thing you want to deal with is figuring out what certain complicated words mean and how they relate to your situation. Some examples of words that float around when discussing a stroke diagnosis and recovery may include: hemianopsia, dysphagia, diplopia, apraxia. It’s enough to make a person tongue-tied! In this post and future posts, we will break down some of the intimidating words a bit so that you will have a quick reference guide and feel more empowered to have meaningful discussions with doctors and therapists. The more prepared you feel to readily discuss some of these topics, the better you can advocate for yourself or your loved one.
In today’s post, let’s discuss some words that relate to speech and communication disorders that can happen when a person has had a stroke.
Aphasia: a communication disorder that happens as a result of an injury to the brain. It is an impairment that can happen after a stroke, brain injury, brain tumor, or some types of brain infections -- no one is born with aphasia. Not all strokes or brain injuries result in aphasia.
Aphasia causes trouble with communication and use of language, which can include problems with speaking, understanding, reading, and/or writing. It can range from mild to severe, and can have one or multiple noticeable symptoms. A person with aphasia may substitute one word for another in a sentence, need extra time to generate words, use words that are not recognizable, shorten sentences and lose context, say things that don’t make sense, not speak at all, or not be able to understand what someone is saying.
There are several other descriptive words that you may hear in discussions about aphasia. Some of these words describe or label the symptoms of aphasia that appear to be affecting the person the most: expressive aphasia, receptive aphasia, global aphasia. Some of the words indicate the area of the brain that appear to be most impacted: Wernicke’s aphasia, Broca’s aphasia. After carefully reviewing medical records and completing a thorough evaluation, the speech therapist involved in treating the person’s aphasia will help explain which of these words are most closely linked to the specific case and how they can best be managed.
Aphasia does not affect or change a person’s intelligence.
The main treatment for aphasia is speech therapy. Therapy can provide intensive training to relearn communication skills, as well as teach a person how to use adaptive strategies to communicate despite the disorder. Some people are able to learn to use gestures, write short messages out, use a communication aide such as a tablet or picture board, or rely on “yes” and “no” answers in order to communicate. Others may need visual or sensory cues to understand a message, such as a demonstration of a task or tapping on a body part to signal using it for a task. Some may struggle to portray or understand a message at all, while others may return to their baseline, or get pretty close to it!
Dysarthria: a different type of communication disorder that affects the pronunciation and clarity of words. “Dysarthria” is a word that describes a condition when a person’s speaking muscles (those that help the lips, tongue, cheeks, throat, and jaw do their jobs) are weak or uncoordinated. Dysarthria is another condition that occurs related to brain damage from things like stroke, brain injury, and brain tumors, but it does not happen in every case.
When a person has dysarthria, words may come out sounding slurred, rushed, muffled, or jumbled. It may sound like the person is speaking with food in his mouth, or is talking too quickly to pronounce things accurately. Sometimes the person’s appearance of drooping face muscles on one side may cue you to realize why she is speaking differently, while in other cases a physical feature may not be obvious.
The main treatment for dysarthria is also speech therapy. Your skilled clinician will coach you on strengthening and retraining your muscles, teach you strategies to slow down and speak more clearly, and help you pronounce words so that your wants and needs can be more accurately verbalized and understood by others.
There are things you can do to help a person with aphasia and/or dysarthria feel better and safer about trying to communicate. Try to speak slowly and clearly, wait for an attempted response, and do not “talk down” or patronize. Help the person know that you understand his intelligence level is no different than before. Minimize distractions in the environment so the person can concentrate on listening only to what you have to say, and on trying to respond the best she can. Do not answer for the person or assume you know what he is trying to say. You may need to gently ask for the person to repeat herself, speak more slowly, or clarify her point. Most of all, try to be patient. A person with aphasia or dysarthria still wants to be able to communicate with you in any way he or she can.
National Aphasia Association:
ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the NEOFECT website is solely at your own risk.
- Natalie Miller, OTR/LNatalie is an occupational therapist and health writer based out of Richmond, VA. Natalie recently pivoted into the pediatric setting after spending eleven years working in adult neurorehabilitation.