One common outcome of a stroke or other brain injury is the sudden loss of ability to process language. This disability is called “aphasia” (ah-FAY-zya).
Depending on which part of the brain has been damaged, the affected person may have trouble speaking or trouble understanding. Or may have difficulty with reading or writing.
Needless to say, this is frustrating—for the injured person and family members too!
Aphasia does not change intelligence
People often assume that someone with aphasia can no longer think clearly. Or that hearing is affected. As a result, those with aphasia frequently have others yelling at them. Or acting as if they have dementia. Not true! Hearing remains the same. And unless the stroke or trauma affected the logical thinking portion of the brain, your loved one is just as “smart” as they ever were.
Aphasia does affect relationships and self-esteem
Talking is how we express our personality. It’s also how we interact with those we love. Without full language capabilities, your relative may feel “less than” and withdraw. This can lead to isolation and depression.
Work with the rehab team
It’s important to engage speech and occupational therapists soon after the stroke or trauma to better understand the full impact. They will identify strengths and weaknesses and develop exercises and strategies to help your relative live fully. Don’t get discouraged! Therapy takes practice and time, but it makes a big difference.
When a loved one struggles with speaking, it’s tempting to want to “help” by doing things for him or her. Help your loved one stay involved with friends, hobbies, and activities, as well as with family discussions and decision making. You may need to get creative and be patient. But staying engaged will help the person you care for regain as much language ability as possible.