Q My father has just had a stroke and is having difficulty talking to us and it appears he doesn’t understand what we say. This is very distressing both for my dad and our family and I wonder what can be done about it.
A It sounds like your father has aphasia which is a difficulty with language following a stroke. As you rightly say this can be very distressing and can often be very frustrating for a patient. Aphasia can affect expression (difficulty finding words and formulating sentences), understanding what you say (particularly longer sentences and complex questions), and sometimes reading and writing.
The speech and language therapist (SLT) in his hospital will assess his language skills, help you to find ways to communicate more easily, and will work through a communication treatment programme which will be aimed at improving his communication skills. The following is a list of tips you can employ to help communicate with him:
- Reduce background distractions.
- Gain his attention by touching his arm/say his name before starting to speak.
- Slow your own rate of speech when talking to him.
- Reduce sentence length.
- Stress key words.
- Talk about events and people familiar to him.
- Encourage all attempts at communication (speech, gestures, writing).
- Give him ample time to respond to you.
- Offer alternatives (eg, “do you want tea or coffee?”).
- Encourage description of an item if he can’t think of the word.
- Use yes/no questions if he is having severe difficulty (eg, is it in the room? is it something you eat?).