Life After Stroke: 3 Ways to Keep Aphasia From Getting in the Way of Good Conversation

Three years after experiencing a shower emboli stroke, CaringBridge author Christine Richards of Wyoming said she still speaks with a “stroke accent.” Chris is living with aphasia, an effect of stroke that can make communication challenging for those on the speaking and listening sides of a conversation.

“Aphasia didn’t make me not intelligent,” Chris said. “It affected my speech. I know what I want to say, but I can’t say it fast.”

Many CaringBridge users recovering from stroke express the same sentiment as Chris, and offer the following tips for talking with—not at—a person who has aphasia:

1. Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room

People living with aphasia are well aware that getting a point across is harder than before stroke. Rather than skirting the obvious, it may put speaker and listener at ease to say something like, “Let’s just be patient with each other while we figure this out together. All will be well.”

2. Give Me a Minute, Please

While it is human nature to want to help along anyone who seems to be struggling, try to avoid the natural impulse to finish sentences, interrupt or talk over a person with aphasia. Finding the right words, and getting them out, simply takes longer. Stroke-recovery is a time when awkward pauses are OK. Don’t rush to fill gaps in conversation.

3. Keep it Simple

Although aphasia typically doesn’t affect thinking skills, carrying on a conversation can be exhausting for stroke survivors. Out of courtesy, maybe consider sticking with questions that require short answers. Or invite the use of “props,” so that a person with aphasia may supplement responses by drawing, pointing at pictures or possibly typing or texting.

Add to the Tips

Over time, and with speech therapy, aphasia may fade. But at every phase of stroke recovery, a hug or squeeze of the hand can be just as meaningful as words that are hard to find and/or express.

In the “Comment” section directly below, please add to these tips for communicating with a stroke survivor  living with aphasia.

Learn More

During the month of May, recognized as American Stroke Month, CaringBridge is partnering with the American Stroke Association to help educate patients, caregivers, family and friends about Life After Stroke.

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  • benard morris

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  • Vanessa Alba

    I had a massive stroke almost 5 years ago. I have found that if others speak at a steady rate, and not fast, I can attend to the conversation better. Also, if one person speaks at a time I don’t have to figure out who to listen to. I have gone back to work and am generally doing well.

  • laura kenton

    I am three months into witnessing and caring for my mother who has cerebral anoxia. Dru’s suggestion of smiles, hugs and laughter I’m sure will serve me well.

  • Stephanie S

    My father suffered a stroke in the summer of 2001 and until his passing 3 years ago we experienced every single aspect listed above on ways to communicate. It was spot on! Thank you for putting into words what family members can not communicate

  • Dru Fallon O'Neill

    Recovering after a head injury-first, the effort is put into surviving, Following surgery I felt like I was trapped and retarded. My speech was slow, I stumbled over words. A couple of weeks after brain surgery, at a post op check-up, I relayed my problem to the physician. Seems like I was give consistently, a medication that was to be used sparingly. Once that was discontinued I felt more clear headed, but was appalled that I couldn’t speak clearly! The words I wanted to say didn’t come out right, I could hear the wrong words being said and struggled to say the right words but that just sent me spirally into such frustration that I couldn’t speak at all. I worked with a speech therapist who was working with a stroke patient. HUMOR was the key. We made jokes about what was happening, about the inane things we were saying that no one, even us, understood! Patience and humor was what got me through these times and enabled my synapses to make new connections. Speaking slowly, simple sentences, and laughter, worked. Ironically, in my case, I couldn’t find the simple words and used verbiage out of the big word part of the dictionary…though the words were correct most people didn’t know their meaning. If I wanted to talk about a stream I would describe it and then the whole conversation centered around a kind of charades…until I lost the point of the sentence I was trying to construct…and then just laugh. What can you do when you can do nothing? Smiles, hugs, laughter. That is universal language. I hope this will help others….