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Speech & Language Therapy for Stroke Survivors:

Tackling Asphasia

Our resident columnist Stroke Association tells us more about aphasia, a condition that affects the brain and leads to problems using language correctly, and explores how care professionals can effectively support stroke survivors who are struggling to communicate.

After a stroke around one in three survivors have difficulty speaking and understanding, which can be terrifying and isolating. The Stroke Association estimates that there are around 367,000 stroke survivors in the UK living with aphasia.

Aphasia, sometimes referred to as dysphasia, is a common communication difficulty that affects over a third of stroke patients. It can impact an individual’s ability to speak, read, write and understand, and use numbers. Even a mild disruption of speech can be devastating and is associated with depression, increased length of stay in hospital and less chance of a return to work. This can put immense pressure and stress on the stroke survivors and those who care for them.

Care professionals will know all too well how complex post-stroke communication problems can be. Patients may be unable to express their needs or muddle their words so they cannot indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or mix them up without realising it. In some instances, stroke patients are unable to understand language in its written or spoken form. It can be extremely frustrating for care staff to not be able to communicate with those who have aphasia. However, with the right support, stroke patients can find new ways to express themselves, and in some cases, make an excellent recovery.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, as aphasia affects people differently, but there are techniques we can

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all use. For example, in the first instance, it can help to check “yes” and “no” answers are reliable and highlight common misunderstandings which can occur. Writing down “yes”, “no” and “I don’t understand” and encouraging patients to point to them can help a stroke survivor with very limited speech.

Lorraines Story

Not long after celebrating her 60th birthday, grandmother of eight, Lorraine, had a severe stroke which left her completely unable to speak.

Speaking about what happened, Lorraine’s husband, Trevor commented: “Stroke changes everything. It’s devastating when you’ve been married as long as we have but you can’t have a conversation anymore.”

In spite of the challenges Lorraine is finding new ways to communicate with help from her local Stroke Association communication group. She now sings in a choir twice a week, which is helping her to regain some words and is building her confidence again.

The Stroke Association is urging people to show their support for stroke survivors and make a donation. More information at

Support like this is vital in a health care setting because the consequences of getting communication wrong can be so fundamental. One stroke survivor for instance told us: “I remember one time when the doctor told me that he was feeding me and I opened my mouth and he shoved a tube up my nose. I sneezed it out and I was frightened.

It was not until

my partner explained to me slowly and drawing pictures to show me that the doctor wanted to feed me through a tube.”

Speech and language therapy is essential for stroke survivors with aphasia and their families, because it helps mediate communication difficulties and provides functional support. Yet access to services remains patchy and where it is available, stroke survivors may not get it for long enough.

Learning different techniques to overcome these barriers can help many staff who care for stroke survivors. The Stroke Association offers a range of support and training on Aphasia and communication difficulties.

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