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Alzheimer’s Disease & Jumbled Language: Communicating With Aphasia

Alzheimer’s Disease & Jumbled Language: Communicating with Aphasia

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses it can impact language. For some, the disease robs the ability to articulate needs and hold conversations. For others, it creates aphasia, a disorder that affects language functions and can cause words to become jumbled. It can be frustrating for the person suffering with the disease as well as family members, friends, and caregivers. Here are some suggestions on how to make communication easier with a person who may be suffering from linguistic impairments caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

What is aphasia?

Aphasia is a symptom of brain damage. It is general term that refers to different types of language dysfunctions such as speaking, naming common objects, and understanding what others are saying. It can impact the production of speech, speaking, or the understanding of speech. Aphasia is caused when disease, stroke or head trauma impacts the part of the brain responsible for language. Alzheimer’s disease can impact cognitive functions and when it does, it can cause aphasia.

According to the National Aphasia Association, the disorder can impact speech in different ways.

  1. It may affect mainly a single aspect of language use
    1. The ability to retrieve the names of objects
    2. The ability to put words together into sentences
    3. The ability to read.
  2. Multiple aspects of communication are impaired
    1. Some channels remain accessible for a limited exchange of information.

To understand how to communicate with a person whose Alzheimer’s disease has caused aphasia, it’s important to understand how the disorder can impact individuals differently.

  • Difficulty expressing thoughts in speech or writing: The patient knows what he or she wants to say but cannot find the right words. The person may have trouble speaking in more than one phrase at a time. In other cases:
    • Some people may not be able to put words together
    • May say words that don’t make sense together
    • Are unaware they are not making sense
  • Difficulty understanding speech: Some aphasia causes difficulty in understanding spoken or written language. The person can hear speech and see the written words but cannot make sense of them.
  • Wrong words: Some individuals have a severe form of aphasia called Anomic or Anemic aphasia. They can understand speech, but cannot use the correct words for objects, people, places, events, or things. They can read, but have trouble selecting the right words with which to write.

The most severe form of aphasia: Called Global Aphasia, it results in the inability to produce recognizable words. These individuals understand little or no spoken language and cannot read or write.

How to communicate with someone with aphasia

Even in the most severe forms of aphasia, it is possible to communicate with someone with the disorder. In the lesser forms, it is also possible to make it easier for the person to engage in conversation. First and foremost, be patient and allow the person with aphasia the time necessary to try to communicate.

The most important tips come from the National Aphasia Association and we want to convey them to appropriately, so we quote:

  1. Make sure you have the person’s attention before you start.
  2. Minimize or eliminate background noise (TV, radio, other people).
  3. Keep your own voice at a normal level, unless the person has indicated otherwise.
  4. Keep communication simple, but adult. Simplify your own sentence structure and reduce your rate of speech. Emphasize key words. Don’t “talk down” to the person with aphasia.
  5. Give them time to speak. Resist the urge to finish sentences or offer words.
  6. Communicate with drawings, gestures, writing and facial expressions in addition to speech.
  7. Confirm that you are communicating successfully with “yes” and “no” questions.
  8. Praise all attempts to speak and downplay any errors. Avoid insisting that that each word be produced perfectly.
  9. Engage in normal activities whenever possible. Do not shield people with aphasia from family or ignore them in a group conversation. Rather, try to involve them in family decision-making as much as possible. Keep them informed of events but avoid burdening them with day to day details.
  10. Encourage independence and avoid being overprotective.

Everyone wants to communicate; it is one of the most basic human needs. If your loved one suffers with aphasia, sit close, give them a warm touch and let them do their very best to communicate with you. It is important for them to know you are supporting them and giving them all the time they need to say what they want, and need, to say to you.

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices throughout California including: Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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