Our best tip for people with aphasia? Sing!
Aphasia is a speech disorder that can happen after an injury or stroke. It’s the loss of ability to communicate, due to damage in the parts of the brain responsible for language. The speech therapists at Better Speech share their best advice for communication coaching for people with aphasia: sing with them!
Article continues below…
Aphasia means loss of language.
Aphasia is when an injury to the brain occurs and loss of language is the result. Aphasia literally means the loss of language. Both our ability to understand language, specifically the receptive component, or it could also be our ability to express language, the expressive verbal component.
Aphasia is caused by brain injury, like stroke.
Aphasia can occur from a brain injury of any kind. This could be from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), neurologic disease, or we most typically see this in individuals who experience #stroke.
Now for individuals who experienced strokes, for example, an adult who has difficulty understanding language, who has now experienced aphasia, what you might see is their difficulty actually understanding language. This might include following simple commands, answering simple yes, no questions such as “is your name Bob?” Or, “are the lights on?” Those are simply yes, no questions.
And then more complex questions such as “how are you,” or “what are you doing?” Those become harder and harder as we ask multiple choice answers or open ended questions. And when it comes to expressing language, what you might actually see as somebody who is having difficulty expressing themselves. They might be groping, trying to get the word out.
People with aphasia might also be very inconsistent in their production of the sounds. There might be repetition for parts of a word, for example. It’s very difficult to actually think of what you want to say, to go through the vocabulary that is in your mind, that is stored there from years of experience. And then also to come up with the appropriate sequence and grammatical formation of that sentence. So our ability to actually express all occurs in a very brief matter of moments, and it actually relies on conscious thinking.
Singing for aphasia therapy relies on subconscious, long-term memory and is easier.
Now when it comes to other speech such as singing, this relies on unconscious or subconscious things that are automatic. These just flow naturally because of a very long history, in other words, there’s a very extended memory bank of these tunes and of this information.
And some of the earliest memories are nursery rhymes. When you start to sing “Twinkle Twinkle, Little…..” you might start to hear people with aphasia suddenly come out with words “Star, How I Wonder What You Are!” They may be clear and can carry the tune. This is because these things we don’t have to think about very consciously. We don’t have to go through that word bank, because it’s already there.
That information is automatic, it’s wrote, it’s natural, it’s already stored their long term memories. This is also why commercials with jingles come so much easier. Try “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz…” from Alka Selzer, or “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing…” from Coca-Cola, or others from their childhood. These have been stored and hit on a repeat multiple, multiple times. So they are very embedded in your brain.
Singing for aphasia communication coaching may also help with depression.
For individuals who are having difficulty with a loss of words, who cannot express their wants, needs or desires, can be very frustrated in that moment. If we start to sing with them, especially things like “Happy Birthday,” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or maybe their other favorite songs that they’ve listened to their entire life, it can have a profoundly positive impact in other ways.
You may start to see that glimmer of hope. You might start to see those words start to flow more easily from them because they’ve been there for so long – it’s so automatic and natural and easy for them. We call this therapy approach melodic intonation, or we also call it singing therapy.
For help with this or other questions about people with aphasia, communication coaching and speech therapy for adults with aphasia, get a free consultation with one of our speech therapists.