Helping People with Aphasia

by Tom Kloiber on October 5, 2012

Helping People with Aphasia

That moment when you know exactly what you’re trying to say, but the word or idea you need is just…gone. You know it’s there, right on the tip of your tongue, and still completely out of reach. It’s one of the most frustrating moments in life. It makes you feel stupid, incompetent, and for people growing older, afraid. It happens to everyone once in a while and it’s usually temporary; you remember later, usually long after it’s too late.

For roughly one million Americans with aphasia, inability to communicate is a daily occurrence, along with other symptoms, like difficulty reading and writing. And because aphasia is a highly individual issue, techniques that work for one patient may not work for the next.

Understanding Aphasia

Aphasia may be caused by injuries, tumors, migraines or other neurological issues, but the most common cause is stroke. It can be temporary or permanent depending on the severity of the damage. Aphasia damage manifests in four broad categories:

  • Difficulty or inability to express thoughts when speaking or writing.
  • Difficulty understanding either spoken or written communication.
  • Difficulty expressing the correct names for objects, people, places or events.
  • Loss of almost all ability to communicate – no ability to speak or understand speech.

Therapy Directions

Communication, memory, and speech are complicated processes that use different parts of the brain, and this makes a variable approach to therapy more effective.

One traditional therapy is melodic intonation therapy (MIT). It’s been known for more than a century that some aphasic patients who can’t communicate with language can often sing what they cannot say. Music based MIT was developed in the ’70s to use melody and rhythm to stimulate the speech center and help the patients make those connections.

The advent of touchscreen technology and app development has changed the game considerably, providing new language-improvement techniques to engage patients in meaningful ways. offers a variety of low-cost apps tailored to aphasia patients. Each offers a familiar interface and comfortable, everyday images to help speechless patients regain the art of communication. Touch screen technology is easy enough to understand that even elderly patients and very young children respond, and apps are generally very affordable.

The key to aphasia treatment is finding the right combination of therapies to address each individual. SLPs must be responsive and adaptive as necessary. If an approach does not produce results, we must be prepared to switch gears and explore new technologies and therapies.

What approaches do you use when dealing with aphasia? Do you start with a general therapy routine and introduce new elements gradually, or devise a therapy plan with a unique approach for each patient? Which approach works better and why?



{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment