What Is Aphasia and How Do You Deal with It?

Friday, February 19, 2021

Since dementia is a disease that affects the brain, it causes a wide variety of symptoms – memory loss being just one of them. Depending on the type of dementia your loved one has, you may find yourself dealing with surprising symptoms like aphasia.

“Aphasia is a condition that robs you of the ability to communicate,” says Devon Sicard, Executive Director of Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke , a memory care assisted living community in Pembroke, MA. “While aphasia often occurs after a head injury or a stroke, it can also be a symptom of dementia, specifically frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Aphasia that is caused by dementia is more specifically known as primary progressive aphasia (PPA), and is a neurodegenerative disease resulting from progressive deterioration of brain tissue in areas important for speech and language. When an individual has PPA, speech and language issues are the first symptoms of the disease, with personality changes and memory loss coming later on during the disease journey.

The majority of people with PPA are between the ages of 40-80, with men being twice as likely as women to develop the disease. Approximately half of individuals with PPA have a family history of dementia, which leads researchers to believe that there is a genetic component to developing the disease. Half of all people with PPA will eventually develop symptoms of dementia within five years of the PPA onset. It’s considered a relatively rare disease, as fewer than 200,000 people in the US currently experience it. However, it is also not well-known, which could mean that there are many more who have it who have not been diagnosed.

Since PPA is a degenerative brain disease, there is no specific diagnostic test to determine whether someone has developed it. However, there are some things to watch for, including:

  • Difficulty with word finding (anomia)
  • Challenges using proper grammar (syntax)
  • Slow or halted speech, or hesitation while speaking
  • Substitutions of words (“juice” for “milk”)
  • New impairments in spelling
  • Sudden difficulty understanding familiar names or simple words
  • Impaired comprehension of language (semantics)
  • Problems reading or writing
  • Forgetting the names of familiar people and objects

The pattern and progression of PPA can differ from individual to individual. Eventually, individuals with PPA will become mute and unable to understand written or spoken language.

How to Manage Aphasia

While there is no cure for PPA, therapies can be used to help slow the progression and improve quality of life. Speech and language therapy can provide tools to help individuals be able to communicate for as long as possible. Therapies can include providing self-cueing strategies, alternate communication tools, developing “scripts” to help with common situations and others.

Family members and caregivers can play a role in helping individuals with aphasia. Here are some tips and tools to help facilitation communication and make the situation easier for you and your loved one:

  • Speak slowly and clearly. Short phrases are better than long phrases.
  • Try to keep conversations relatively simple, providing one piece of information at a time to keep from overwhelming the individual.
  • Provide cues if your loved one is struggling to communicate. You can ask “can you describe it?” or “can you think of what letter it starts with?” if they are searching for words.
  • Use visual aids to represent familiar objects, topics, people and places. Encourage your loved one to point or use non-verbal communication to help them get their point across if verbal language isn’t working.
  • Be patient and try not to “answer” for the person. Don’t interrupt or try and “guess” the word they are trying to say. This will only serve to frustrate both you and your loved one.
  • Be respectful of your loved one and treat them like the adult they are. Even if they can’t communicate the way they used to, they are still deserving of respect. Do your best to not speak for them or talk about them as if they’re not there.

“As you can see, many of the tools and techniques used to help manage aphasia are the same tactics you would use to facilitate communication with someone who has dementia,” says Devon. “Simply understanding what’s going on with your loved one will help you better understand the situation and provide you with clarity on how to move forward with communication techniques.”

For more information about aphasia, especially PPA, visit the National Aphasia Association.

Expert, Life-Enriching Memory Care

Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke provides memory care assisted living that is comfortable, positive, safe and engaging. Exclusively dedicated to caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, our community promotes a wellness-focused lifestyle that emphasizes dignity and individual preferences. Our memory care professionals receive specialized, ongoing training designed to help residents maximize their independence in a secure, calm environment – making a truly positive impact on the lives of our residents.

Inspiring Programs for All Stages

Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke’s services are designed to recognize and adapt to the unique challenges and individuality of each resident, while ensuring comfort and safety. We believe in a full-service approach to care and provide personalized attention and programming for residents in every stage of memory loss.

Purposefully Designed Community

Within a beautiful residential design, Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke provides everything residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia need to enjoy comfort, familiarity and security. Soft colors, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life stations create a soothing and secure environment where residents feel at home.

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