How to Recognize and Treat Aphasia in the Elderly

Know Symptoms and Treatment for Aphasia

What is Aphasia?

Have you noticed changes in the way your elderly loved one speaks or communicates? Perhaps he or she has trouble putting words together, remembering the names of things, or comprehending what you say. If so, the problem could be aphasia. Aphasia involves the inability to communicate normally due to a brain dysfunction and may affect speaking, listening, reading, or writing. While anyone may experience aphasia caused by a brain injury or other brain problem, elderly people often experience aphasia associated with the following:

  • Stroke–A stroke can cause damage to the parts of the brain that control speech and language. Damage to different areas may cause differing symptoms, including difficulty producing speech or difficulty understanding speech.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease–As brain degeneration occurs, various parts of the brain may be affected. Aphasia is one of the four primary indicators of Alzheimer’s disease and usually occurs along with more generalized memory loss.
  • Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA)–In PPA, the elderly person gradually loses language skills while maintaining the ability to perform daily activities.

Aphasia caused by stroke is usually noticed right away since the brain damage occurs instantaneously. However, progressive types of aphasia may not be diagnosed until symptoms have become more pronounced.

Does Your Elderly Loved One Have Aphasia?

Approximately one million people in the United States suffer from aphasia. If you notice the following symptoms in your elderly loved one, talk to your doctor about the possibility:

  • Difficulty understanding words or sentences
  • Inability to follow a story
  • Inability to remember common sequences such as months of the year or days of the week
  • Difficulty answering questions or carrying on a conversation
  • Trouble remember the names of people or objects
  • Difficulty reading or writing
  • Using alternative means of communicating such as gesturing, drawing pictures, or pointing at objects.

Symptoms of aphasia may vary; however, a doctor can help you determine whether your loved one is experiencing aphasia and what the probable cause and prognosis will be.

Can Aphasia Be Treated?

Treatment programs will depend on the cause of the aphasia and the individual’s possibility of recovery. Most treatments involve therapy with a speech-language pathologist and may be conducted in a group or on an individual basis. The therapist may help the affected individual learn alternative ways to communicate, improve specific skills associated with the type of damage incurred, or suggest coping strategies designed to help the person resume most normal daily activities. If the aphasia is due to stroke or brain injury, it may be possible for the affected person to fully recover speech and language function. However, aphasia caused by progressive degenerative disorders usually requires alternative communication strategies that will help the person remain functional despite the progressive loss of language.

How Can You Maintain Communication?

If your loved one has been diagnosed with aphasia, the following strategies may help you communicate more effectively:

  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before speaking.
  • Use body language, eye contact, and gestures both to communicate and to understand.
  • Don’t talk down to the person; aphasia often occurs without affecting intelligence at all.
  • Slow down and use simple sentence structures and words.
  • Don’t try to finish the person’s sentences. Allow him or her to finish speaking or communicating.
  • Don’t emphasize or correct problems in word usage or pronunciation.
  • Hire an in-home caregiver to help your loved one maintain independence as long as possible.

While aphasia can be frustrating for both the affected individual and his or her family, remember that regular contact and conversations with loved ones still play an important role in helping to alleviate problems and encourage recovery or coping strategies.

 

Photo by matwiemann -(cc)

Originally posted 2015-06-16 10:00:01.

Joyce Apperson

About Joyce Apperson

Joyce Apperson is a Registered Nurse and Geriatric Care Manager with 15 plus years of experience working with advocating for seniors. She is the founder and President of Caring Connection, Inc., which provides in-home care and geriatric care management in Harford County, Baltimore County and Cecil County in Maryland. Joyce currently serves on the Harford County Advisory Board on Aging. In addition to writing articles here for the Caring Connection's blog, Joyce has been a regular contributor on senior care topics to the County Gazette.