How many times have you found yourself saying one of these...?
“Oh, you know, the thingy....”
“It was that guy, what’s his name...?”
“It’ll come to me in a minute....”
It’s frustrating when you can’t think of the right word, but fortunately, this doesn’t happen too often for most people. However, for brain injury survivors, this can be a very regular occurrence as it’s one form of aphasia.
What is aphasia?
Different forms of aphasia can be categorised as “expressive” or “receptive”, depending on if the symptom is a difficulty with using words to communicate with others or being able to understand the words of others. Plus, this can affect verbal or written words, or sometimes both.
Personally, I have experienced all of these. There was a time that I could barely read, or even when I could, I couldn’t remember the last sentence I read, so the context was lost on me. At the same time, I couldn’t spell, so writing was nigh on impossible. And then when I was trying to hold a conversation, it would grind to a halt when I couldn’t think of the word I wanted or find another way to describe it. Or I’d suddenly realise that although I understood all the individual words someone else had said, I couldn’t decode the sentence to understand what it all meant.
Aphasia can lead to a feeling of isolation
When we struggle to communicate with people, it can leave you feeling very lonely. It’s difficult to enjoy the company of others and maintain relationships when communication is lacking. Whilst inside you still have a lot to offer with valid opinions and knowledge, the problem is how to get it out. In turn, confidence is eroded, and for fear of “appearing” stupid, we can retreat and engage less in an attempt to hide our struggles.
Nevertheless, it’s vital that we continue to try as it helps our brain to build new pathways to repair these skills. A speech and language therapist can make a real difference here, and the earlier you can begin your therapy with them, the better. Your GP can put in a referral for you, so make sure they know this is what you need if you are struggling with aphasia. In the meantime, whenever you are trying to talk to people, do your best to remain calm. From experience, I can tell you that the more stressed and frustrated I become, the harder it becomes. When I’ve become stuck, I smile, hole up a finger to let the other person know that I need a minute, and take a deep breath. Together, I find this reduces some of the pressure that I would usually put myself under and helps me to find the word that I’m looking for.
Free apps which can help you with brain training for aphasia
There is a whole range of apps available in the Apple App Store or Google Play which can assist you in a variety of ways. Just type “Small Talk” into the search bar to get these useful apps from Lingraphica. There are a number available but here are the ones that I think are most useful:
- SmallTalk Phonemes – videos and exercises to help you relearn the lip and tongue movements to create each phoneme in the English language.
- SmallTalk Common Phrases – videos to show you the lip and tongue movements you need to make in order to say key conversational phrases.
Plus, some can to useful for when you are struggling to be understood:
- SmallTalk Aphasia – Icons and videos which you can select when you can’t think of the words which it will play aloud in a human voice for you. It comes in either a male or female voice. The options are basic, but could really help you out when you are stuck.
- SmallTalk Daily Aphasia – More icons to help you when you can’t find the words which are connected with daily activities such as asking someone to speak slowly, through to bathing and leisure.
How to communicate with someone who has aphasia
Friends and family of a brain injury survivor can really help them by ensuring they build their confidence. No matter where they are on their journey of recovery, showing them that you are not judging them and treating them with understanding and patience can make sure that they feel supported. Here are my tips on how best to behave when you are holding a conversation with them:
- Reduce background noise such as the TV or find a quieter area to make sure they are not struggling to hear you.
- Talk normally, both in your volume and sentence structure. Don’t use needlessly complex words, but at the same time, don’t talk to them like they’re a child. If they feel patronised, that will only upset them, increasing their stress levels, making their aphasia worse.
- Don’t rush, talking very quickly or very slowly makes it more difficult to follow what you are saying.
- When they hit a stumbling block, resist the urge to finish the sentence for them. Be patient and often they will find a way to describe what they are trying to say. If not, offering a pen and paper enables them to draw what they are trying to say.
As with all skills that we want to improve, practise is essential. Yes, it’s difficult and embarrassing when you can’t make yourself understood. I felt so awkward when I was floundering for the right word. Five years on, I still have these moments, particularly when I’m tired, but I’ve learnt to stop being hard on myself and give my brain a chance to catch up with me. Treat yourself as you would your best friend. You’d give them time, be understanding and still love them for who they are. Treat yourself that way, and the words will come to you.
Nothing in this blog should be taken as providing medical advice or recommendations. Please always consult your doctor for medical advice and before taking any medication or supplement. Any opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not CFG Law Limited.