You may have seen the news announcement earlier this year about actor Bruce Willis: he's no longer able to act due to an Aphasia diagnosis. But what exactly is aphasia?
Aphasia is the loss of ability to speak, understand, write, or read due to damage in the brain from a stroke, head injury, tumour, infection, etc.
At last estimate, more than 100,000 Canadians live with aphasia and about 1/3 of stroke survivors experience it, according to Speech-Language & Audiology Canada.
Aphasia is often misunderstood. It doesn't affect a person's intelligence, but due to limited awareness of the disorder and its symptoms, people are often mistaken by others for having intellectual impairments.
Unsurprisingly, people living with aphasia can often feel isolated and depressed due to their differing ability to communicate: speech, understanding words, reading and writing can be affected. Speech therapy, led by speech-language pathologists, helps people to regain their ability to connect with those around them and participate in everyday life.
As well, it's important for these individuals to receive support from their family and friends to help them communicate.
Aphasia Awareness Month is held each year to help us understand what it is, and to inform us how to effectively communicate with someone living with this disorder.
"The message with aphasia awareness is really just that – awareness of what aphasia is – a language disorder, most often post-stroke, that impacts a person's ability to communicate," says Jenna Beaumont, Lead, Provincial Clinical Initiatives & Innovation at Stroke Services BC. "It doesn't impact their competence or intelligence, and there are many things communication partners can do to help."
For example, suggestions to have effective dialogue with someone living with aphasia include using pictures or a communications device, keeping sentences short and simple, and reviewing what you're saying and asking the listener if they understood you.
The Aphasia Institute, located in Toronto offers a free online module for health professionals about how to communicate with a person with Aphasia.
Chorus Care, also located in Ontario, has shared simple tips about how to communicate with someone living with aphasia. This blog post outlines the effectiveness of using the right tools and strategies to communicate. Similarly, the National Aphasia Association in the U.S. has created an infographic to help communicate with someone who is living with aphasia.
For more information, please contact Stroke Services BC.