How To Get Your Life Back And Regain Your Communication Skills After A Stroke
Thousands of people suffer from a stroke each year. This usually happens to the older market, but there have been several circumstances wherein the young ones have been affected as well. This debilitating incident can greatly change your life. Hence, recovery is a must, especially within the first six months. This means that the victim should seek help from a doctor immediately and get therapy so that they may regain their motor and communication skills.
They say that prevention is better than the cure, but truth to the matter is that a stroke comes like a thief in the night at times. Here’s a cold, hard fact: every year, hundreds of thousands fall victims. Many of them will experience communication problems as a result. That’s because a stroke affects brain functioning.
One American suffers from a stroke every 40 seconds. Moreover, around 1 in 3 people who have survived often experience difficulty communicating afterward. This study has been conducted by the United Kingdom’s Stroke Association.
Many of you may assume that since the victims experience difficulty speaking, it follows that they may also experience difficulty thinking. This isn’t always true. It actually all boils down to which part of the brain has been affected.
But there’s one universal truth – a stroke can be frightening and frustrating. If the person is unable to communicate their thoughts properly, they can be even more traumatized. The victims won’t also be the only ones suffering. Friends and family will also experience hardships because the victim may feel embarrassed to speak. Thus, those around them will miss the vibrant and happy person they once knew.
Poststroke rehabilitation is extremely important because this will help sufferers regain some, if not all, of their skills. Speech therapists and the people around play vital roles in the recovery. It is crucial for everyone to understand that what the person expresses externally is not always necessarily a reflection of what they’re thinking of internally.
Just know that the victims are the same people. The only difference is that they now have new hurdles to conquer, and with your support, you can help them face these new challenges.
Let’s look into the details of a stroke better, how this can affect the person’s ability to communicate, and how a person recovers the best way possible. There are specific strategies for regaining these skills, many bits of advice were from those who’ve had first-hand experience.
How does a stroke affect communication?
So, to start with, what is a stroke? This is basically a brain injury brought about by bleeding or a blockage. The effects don’t always come immediately or suddenly. Some notice gradual changes, but the damage incurred could affect certain aspects of a person’s mental and physical health.
Some aspects include:
- Motor skills
- Reaction to pain
- Thought processing
A stroke can affect language in several of ways. For instance, it can impair language processing. It can also cause paralysis or a feeling of weakness in the face, tongue, and throat muscles. Those who have experienced partial or full paralysis say that it was hard for them to swallow, control breathing, and form sounds.
The type and extent of the disabilities that happen as a result depend on the form of stroke and the kind of injury they have. When it comes to communication, there are types conditions: aphasia, dysarthria, and dyspraxia. One may experience one or a combination of these three conditions.
This is a result from damage to the language control center of the brain. The said area is called the Wernicke’s area. This leads to receptive aphasia. Simply put, this makes it difficult to understand long, complex sentences. It gets even harder when there is background noise or when several people are talking. The victim often feels as if they are listening to someone speaking in a foreign language, and their own speech may also become unintelligible.
If the Broca’s area has been affected, then the victim suffers from expressive aphasia. Meaning, they can understand others but is unable to express themselves verbally. They know the words that they need to use but cannot speak them or put them together to make a sensible sentence. Someone who suffers from expressive aphasia may form sounds, short words, or parts of sentences, but they tend to omit words or may even use improper words. The saying “on the tip of their tongue” applies here. To the person speaking, they are making senses, but to the listener, the words are incoherent. Oftentimes, you may even assume that the sufferer is confused, but in reality, their cognitive functions are working properly. They just are unable to get the ideas across.
Because there is damage to multiple areas of the brain, a stroke can also result to mixed, or global, aphasia. This is even more difficult because it involves all aspects of communication. The victim is basically unable to use language to convey thought. But remember, aphasia does not affect intelligence. It affects one or several type of communication, such as reading, listening, and speaking.
Dysarthria and dyspraxia
Dysarthria and dyspraxia relate to physically producing sounds when speaking. A person who suffers from this knows the words they need to say, but they cannot form these because of a physical limitation, oftentimes a result of muscular weakness.
When they speak, their words are slurred or said in short bursts. Again, this is not a reflection of the person’s state of mind. Dyspraxia basically involves difficulty with movement and coordination. The speech muscles are not working properly.
There are other effects as well, and these make it challenging to contribute to conversations:
- A loss of tone, which aids in properly expressing emotions when speaking
- Paralyzed or fixed facial expression
- Difficulty understanding humor
- Difficulty in waiting for their turn in a dialogue
These effects will may make it seem as if the person is depressed. In reality, they are actually feeling fine. Of course, depression does often occur.
As a friend or a family to the victim who have experienced these changes, it is imperative that you let others know about the situation. That way, they can fully sympathize, and perhaps even empathize, with the sufferer.
However, a person who suffers from anosognosia will be unable to know if anything is wrong. This is a result of the damage to the brain. Those who have this may even find it more difficult to recover.
Other challenges include mood, fatigue, and other factors. For instance, a stroke may result in vision or hearing loss. This will affect not just the ability to communicate, but the ability to write as well. Tiredness is also a common result. That’s because communicating requires the use of a remarkable amount of effort. Then, there’s stress. This will most likely aggravate problems in communication, especially if the speaker or the listener becomes impatient. Friends of victims have also noticed mood and personality changes in some.
What does a speech therapist do?
Speech therapy is a must after a stroke. The therapist helps victims with swallowing and speaking. It also must be noted that difficulty swallowing can significantly affect language production.
Therapy often includes:
- Repetition of words
- Following directions
They also help victims:
- Rehearse speech
- With conversational coaching
- Develop prompts for certain words
- Look for ways to get around a disability (some are even taught to use symbols and sign language)
Therapists have also become well-versed with the use of communication technology. Tools such as voice simulation have expanded the range of methods when it comes to practicing and improving communication skills.
Tips from those who have firsthand experience
Peter Cline and Geoff, stroke sufferers who have gone through therapy and worked hard to regain skills after a stroke share tips with Medical News Today.
Peter, an engineer, suffered a stroke when he will 59 years old. He was in a holiday in Tasmania when this happened. Geoff, on the other hand, was a businessman until he retired. He was living in Spain then.
Here are the list of do’s they gave:
- Look at the person when you are speaking to them.
- Speak slowly and clearly, but make sure to use a normal tone.
- Use short sentences and stick to one topic at a time.
- Keep background noise to a minimum.
- Reassure them that you understand when they become frustrated.
- Write things down if needed.
- Look into their employment, interests, and passions — now and before the stroke — and try to relate to these.
- Give them a chance to say what they want to say, without interrupting them.
Here’s a list don’ts:
- Finishing their sentences for them.
- Speaking too fast.
- Pushing them too much, even when your only intention is to encourage.
- Speaking to the them when they need to fully concentrate on another task.
- Assuming that he or she unintelligent because they have difficulty comprehending.
- Talking down to them or treating them like a child.
- Don’t “rabbit on,” or continuing to talk when they no longer show interest.
Geoff told MNT that he felt that communication skills went “go up and down.” It became harder for him when he was fatigued and when there were more than two people involved in the dialogue. Now, both men have made remarkable progress. They have made it their life’s goal to serve as mentors to victims who feel as if they’ve lost a big chunk of their life. Geoff even says, “Take time to recover, and, when communicating, take time to explain, and don’t let yourself feel rushed.
Peter, on the other hand, gives the following pieces of advice:
- Persevere. Never give up because the situation will gradually improve. However, it is not as quickly as you want them to.
- Expect peaks and troughs in your recovery.
- Enjoy relaxing with something you are familiar with. For instance, watch old films, listen to music, or see what comforts you most.
Peter goes on to explain that after a stroke, victims might feel as if they are living in a bubble. He says, “It helps if you can get someone to understand that.”
People that surround the victim need to take steps to them communication once more. It may be good to plan practice sessions each day. Just make sure that you don’t tire them out.
One idea for an activity is singing together, especially if the person does enjoy it. Remember, singing and speaking use different parts of the brain, which means that they can do one even when they have difficulty doing the other.
Other great activities that help are:
- Playing card games that involve speaking
- Looking at photos and discussing what you see
- Looking over documentation of their life, jobs, and family as topics of conversation and nonverbal clues when they have a hard time saying specific terms
- Keeping a diary of visits, events, and conversations to help them track progress
- Arranging to read news stories and discussing them
Also, you may want to talk about important matters such as their insurance details or the bills they need to make. Just go about it gently.
If the person experiences difficulty expressing words or ideas, you can ask them to write or draw what they want to say. Some victims can actually spell out words that they can’t say perfectly.
Here are strategies that you can use for practicing:
- Rehearsing vowels and consonants
- Making use of children’s books for reading and writing
- Reciting poems or nursery rhymes
- Saying the names of famous personalities
- Watching the news and copying the newscaster
It is important for the people around to treat the person the same way. While communication may have changed, they are the same people before they got sick. They still have the same interests, skills, and past life experiences.
More importantly, also remember that the effects of a stroke vary from one person to another. There is no one way to recovery. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” kind of situation.
Lastly, it is important to know that while a full recovery can happen, it is not always the case. These people need your patience and support. Help them practice because this goes a long way when it comes to recovery.