Communication is an essential part of our daily lives. It helps us forge new relationships, allows us to be understood, helps us express our emotions… Unfortunately, losing the ability to communicate commonly occurs after brain injuries such a stroke or head trauma. This condition is called aphasia and can have severe consequences on the people who suffer from it as well as their loved ones.
In these cases, a speech therapist can often aid the person in their social interactions and help them overcome the challenges they face.
May is speech and hearing awareness month and Amélie Bleau, speech therapist at Clinique GOTM, tells us a bit more about aphasia and how speech therapy can help the patient improve their quality of life.
Aphasia affects an individual’s ability to communicate, whether partially or completely. They might have trouble speaking and understanding others.
To get a better understanding of aphasia, it’s important to make a distinction between language problems and speech problems. When someone has trouble finding the right words, putting sentences together, or understanding the meaning of words, they are affected by a language impairment. If, on the other hand, they have trouble enunciating and pronouncing, the are suffering from a speech impairment. Aphasia is first and foremost a language impairment and, in many cases, it is accompanied by a speech impairment. The aphasic person might have trouble enunciating, speaking, understanding others, reading, and writing.
A common cause of aphasia is a stroke but it can also occur after a severe head injury that damages the parts of the brain responsible for communication. However, the severity of aphasia may vary according to the severity of the injury. Some people might completely lose their ability to communicate while others will only have trouble finding the right words, formulating sentences, or putting their thoughts into words, etc.
Quebec’s health care system ensures that patients who have suffered from a stroke or severe head trauma will have access to rehabilitation services for approximately one year, although this length of time varies according to the individual and their needs. During this time, the patient will be monitored by an interdisciplinary team that includes physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists. They work together to allow the patient to regain their physical, cognitive, and social abilities as much as possible.
Unfortunately, because recovering from a stroke or head trauma is a gradual process that requires a lot of work from the patient and their loved ones, the success rate of rehabilitation after this period may vary. Recovering from a stroke is an intense process in the six months following the incident. After this period, the patient may take months, even years, to regain their lost abilities and skills, or even a satisfactory level of independence. But there is no guarantee this will occur. The communication abilities of a patient suffering from aphasia are no exception.
In fact, many patients end up being left to their own devices since they no longer have access to the care provided by the public health care system. When the consequences are too severe, the patient will not be able to regain their initial skills and their loved ones will have to act as caregivers. In severe cases where the patient has lost their cognitive abilities, they might need to be placed in a long-term care facility.
A speech therapist can help patients, and their loved ones, who are still experiencing aphasia after their rehabilitation process.
As previously mentioned, a patient suffering from aphasia might feel isolated because they have trouble being understood and understanding others, which prevents them from taking part in enjoyable verbal exchanges. This inability to properly communicate might make the patient frustrated, which will make it harder for them to maintain close relationships with their loves ones or caregiving staff. It can be difficult for the patient’s loved ones when they are not equipped with the right tools to deal with the situation.
In this vein, a speech therapist can greatly help the patient feel less isolated. The professional’s main goal is to allow the patient and their loved ones to implement communication strategies that will make it easier for them to exchange and to compensate for the difficulties the patient is dealing with.
First, a speech therapist needs to thoroughly understand their patient’s situation. To do so, they will consult reports issued by the health care professionals who intervened in the recovery process, including those who have dealt with the patient as well as staff that have met their loved ones. A speech therapist is a professional who has the skills necessary to assess an aphasic patient. They will carry out a language assessment to evaluate the expressive capabilities of the patient along with their ability to understand, write, and speak.
The speech therapist will then be able to propose various communication strategies to the patient and their loved ones. The purpose of these strategies is to help the patient understand the people around them, and vice versa. Two tools are commonly used: the communication plan and the communication book.
This is a single page that is easy to consult. It is designed to be used by the patient’s entourage (loved ones and caregivers) to facilitate communication. It contains essential information such as:
The communication plan’s goal is to ease communication so the patient can make their needs understood and improve their well-being.
This is a tool that is also designed for the patient’s loved ones. It is used to facilitate a more in-depth conversation. It could contain written words, pictograms, or meaningful pictures (photos of family members, the patient’s favourite activities, etc.) which will make communicating easier. This book is created by the speech therapist and takes into account the patient’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to expression, understanding, writing, and speaking.
A speech therapist can also help patients dealing with cognitive disabilities caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or any other type of dementia that causes a language or speech impairment. Because the disease is neurodegenerative, the patient will generally not be able to recover all their lost abilities. In these cases, a speech therapist’s goal is to maintain the best levels of communication possible, despite the progressive language and cognitive deterioration. The speech therapist might provide the patient’s loved ones with communication strategies to facilitate exchanges and make them more pleasant. Once again, a speech therapist will be able to help the patient feel less isolated.
Clinique GO™ can provide aphasic patients and their loved ones with professional support. Our speech therapists travel to their patient’s home or health institution to alleviate the communication problems that affect them. Our professionals are dedicated to improving their patients’ quality of life and making communication easier, using tools that are adapted to each patient’s specific condition and situation.