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“Be creative and clear to learn the language of aphasia”

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We have all experienced times when we have found communication difficult, such as when we’re in an overseas country. We know what we want to say but it can be difficult to find the words to express ourselves in a different language.

Then, when you finally get there, it can be devastating to find that the person has given up and moved on, or they answer at a speed that you simply cannot follow or, worse, your pronunciation seems to have caused hilarity or confusion.

That’s a small glimpse of what life can be like for the one in three stroke survivors who have aphasia - a communication disability that affects the ability to speak, read, write or understand.

Research by the Stroke Association of more than 800 stroke survivors with aphasia showed that over a third (38%) find slower speech helpful and more than a quarter (27%) say simple speech (taking one thing at a time) and having more time with their GP makes a difference.

Good communication is vital in healthcare because the consequences of getting it wrong can be so fundamental. One stroke survivor’s story shows the importance of clear patient communication: “I remember one time when the doctor told me that he was going to feed me - I opened my mouth and he shoved a tube up my nose. I sneezed it out and I was frightened. It was not until my partner Jack explained to me slowly by drawing pictures that I understood that the doctor wanted to feed me through a tube.”

Another said: “I used to answer the medical staff by nodding or shaking my head but… it was confusing to me as they gave me things that I did not want. I did not know until Jane, my speech therapist, explained to me that nodding my head meant yes.”

Communication is about much more than language. If people make use of the full range of techniques available - such as drawing, pointing or writing key words down, it is possible to regain an understanding between staff and patients with aphasia, something that is important both in hospital and in the community.

It is vital to think creatively and engage in a two-way dialogue using whatever means are at your disposal. By keeping this in mind, health professionals can find ways of improving communication between themselves and patients with aphasia.

The Stroke Association has brought out a simple animation to help health professionals to understand and cope with aphasia. It is structured around the concept of “Ask. Wait. Listen” and is based on what over 800 stroke survivors with aphasia say helps them to communicate with their GP and practice staff.

The animation offers additional tips, which came from stroke survivors and people who support them, such as checking that “yes” and “no” answers are reliable and highlights some of the common misunderstandings that can occur.

Find out more: www.stroke.org/aphasia

Cate Holland has worked for the Stroke Association for 11 years where she has helped to train and guide over 100 Communication Support Services across the UK

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