Caring Currents

After a Stroke: When Words Fail Us

Last updated:

April 21, 2008

Last week I wrote about new research that showed listening to music for a couple of hours a day can aid in early recovery from stroke. Caring Currents reader Bert was moved to share how music helped him communicate with his mother after her stroke:

We started listening to her old records together as a way of "talking" about our past -- when I was a child and my father was alive. I think the music really made a difference for her. Her mood improved and she began to look forward to something.

Along with bringing tears to my eyes, Bert's story highlights how challenging it can be to communicate with someone who has difficulty speaking or understanding language. Practical tips for communicating with someone with aphasia are available from a number of sources, including mystroke.org, a blog for stroke survivors and their relatives. But I'd also love to explore some more creative strategies, such as the one Bert described. Here are a few ideas I've come across:

  • Create a memory-communication notebook. Communication notebooks, which link words with associated pictures, are invaluable tools for people with aphasia. You can take this one step further by helping your family member create his own memory book with pictures and photos that are especially meaningful to him. The book might include photos of loved ones, caregivers, places -- and pictures of often-used objects like a water glass. Not only will this book help your loved one communicate, but making it together will be an enriching experience for you both.
  • Strike a balance between support and pampering. In her book After a Stroke: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier, stroke hero and Caring.com expert Cleo Hutton offers these words of advice for families:

Smothering us with love is positive. On the other hand, pampering us with an overabundant amount of attention and doing everything for us stifles growth toward recovery.

Instead of jumping in and finishing your loved one's sentences, give him the time and tools he needs to finish them himself. It can be frustrating to watch someone struggle to express himself, but it's a crucial part of his stroke recovery.

Now it's your turn. What strategies have you and your parent come up with for coping with aphasia?