Communication and language problems are an issue that many older adults face, and they can occur as the result of stroke, brain injury, or progressive neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Conditions that affect the ability to understand language and formulate speech can create numerous problems in daily life, and can threaten seniors’ independence. These issues can also lead to inner struggles for the individual, sparking feelings of confusion, frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, and can even result in social isolation. We generally take the ability to communicate easily and freely for granted until it becomes a struggle, and then it can be debilitating without the right assistance and support.
What is Aphasia?
Aphasia is defined as an acquired communication disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to process, utilize, and understand language. This can include the capacity to comprehend both written and spoken words. The emergence of this disorder and has nothing to with intelligence, and typically varies in severity from case to case depending on area of the brain that is affected, and the extent of the damage incurred.
Types of Aphasia
Instances of aphasia can generally be put into one of two main categories or classifications:
- Expressive aphasia
- Receptive Aphasia
This type of the disorder is characterized by the ability to understand what others are saying to you, but not being able to properly form a response. For example, speech might be jumbled with mixed up words, the incorrect message may be conveyed, or attempts at communication come out as nonsensical gibberish. Expressive aphasia typically involves slow and deliberate speech, with challenges delivering more than one word or phrase at a time.
The other classification of aphasia results in the individual having trouble understanding written or spoken language. In most cases, individuals with receptive aphasia do not have any trouble producing speech, however the content may be irrelevant of confusing.
These distinctions of aphasia may occur collectively or independently and can range in severity. Both types impede reading and writing proficiency, and can also affect the use of numbers and the ability to concisely express thoughts.
What is Dysarthria?
Dysarthria is a language disorder generally caused by damage to the left frontal lobe of the brain. This area of the brain is responsible for language related to movement, comprehension, and speech. The disorder is often a result of paralysis, or reduced muscle strength in the areas used for speech, including the tongue, throat, lips, and face in general. This can result in affected pronunciation, speed and cadence of speech, slurred speech, mumbling, voice hoarseness, and cause the speaker to talk in choppy sentences or phrases.
This paralysis frequently occurs after a stroke, seizure, brain tumor, injury, or trauma, or a progressive neurological disease like dementia.
How to Help Seniors Cope with Aphasia or Dysarthria
There are several tips and suggestions to assist people with communication disorders, to help manage the symptoms and correct problematic language issues. The most common causes for both aphasia and dysarthria are stroke and dementia. Individuals recovering from a stroke or managing a progressive neurological illness like Alzheimer’s will need a solid recovery plan, and plenty of support and assistance.
Home caregivers can provide a huge boost for seniors contending with communication problems and language issues. They can not only help with speech and language recovery, but also with all the daily tasks and activities that have become unmanageable in light of the condition.
Here are some useful tips for caregivers and family members to implement.
Getting Rid of Distractions
Background noise can add extra confusion to attempts to comprehend and reciprocate communication. When working on language improvement, turn off the TV, cell phones, and music, and go to a private area where other conversations will not be overheard.
It cannot be stressed enough just how important patience is to the recovery process. Whether the person is having trouble comprehending or delivering speech, it is crucial not to rush them or they will become frustrated and disheartened.
Next to patience, flexibility is also key to language recovery and improvement. If one approach is not working, try another. If the person is having difficulty expressing themselves with words, get them to draw or act it out.
Speak Slowly and Clearly
It is also helpful to slow down your own rate of speech to optimize comprehension. Speak as clearly and concisely as possible.
The individual will need as much support as they can get. Friends, family and home caregivers can all be excellent sources of unwavering support.