People with receptive aphasia, which is also known as Wernicke’s aphasia, have a hard time understanding words and may say words that don’t make sense. That’s different from expressive aphasia, also known as Broca’s aphasia. Survivors with expressive aphasia know what they want to say or write but can’t find the words.
Aphasia can be difficult for survivors and for their family and friends.
“It’s very common for people who have aphasia to have all kinds of emotions,” said Tami Brancamp, PhD, a speech-language pathologist. “You’re living your life and this happens and your trajectory has completely changed.”
It’s not unusual for survivors to feel frustrated, angry, and depressed, said Carol Dow-Richards, director of Aphasia Recovery Connection (ARC), which was honored with National Stroke Association’s 2013 Most Impactful RAISE Award. ARC was started by two young stroke survivors with aphasia, including Dow-Richards’ son, David.
People with receptive aphasia don’t realize that others can’t understand what they are saying, Dow-Richards said. “In their head and in their mind, they said it exactly right. It really leads to a lot of anger and frustration and a lot of challenges in the relationship,” she said.
If you are a caregiver for someone with receptive aphasia, try these suggestions to improve communication. It’s important to work with a speech-language pathologist who has experience with receptive aphasia.
Modify your speech. Survivors may have an easier time understanding you if you speak slightly slower than usual. “The person with aphasia is really trying to understand what is being said,” Dow-Richards said. Someone with receptive aphasia may have only caught some of the words.
Keep it simple. If you’re asking a question, ask one that can be answered with a yes or no. (“Would you like to go to the grocery store?”)
Use visual cues. This could mean using pictures that support the topic of conversation, Brancamp says. If you’re asking about dinner, have pictures of dinner options or use written words. Dow-Richards said drawing and using gestures helped David.
Pause between sentences. Survivors are processing at a slower speed.
Be redundant. If you are talking about someone, repeat his or her name instead of using a pronoun. Dow-Richards says it’s also helpful to emphasize the key word in a sentence.
For more information, check out the RVA Aphasia group’s video, Patience, Listening and Communicating With Aphasia Patients.