Jennifer Flanagan, SLP
June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, dedicated to increasing awareness of the communication disorder that affects a person’s ability to speak, read, write and/or listen. Debra Kirchhoff, SLP is an advocate for therapists checking in on aphasic patients outside of their therapy sessions. When you hear skilled nursing staff use words or phrases like “combative,” or “they don’t understand me,” or “my patient just isn’t getting ready the way I want,” it’s appropriate to offer advice. These types of comments can be common when staff deal with aphasic patients. Providing occasional feedback to staff on how to best interact with them will help to reduce patient agitation.
“You’ll have more successful therapy results the better your education,” says Debra. “I talk to nurses and try to give them some type of feedback on patient communication strengths. For example, ‘the patient can read, so you may try writing words down’ or ‘ the patient understands gestures.’ I don’t think you can over-educate staff.”
When individuals have confusion about their aphasia diagnosis, it’s especially important to communicate to their nurse how to interact with them to reduce agitation. In some cases they may not recognize their own communication deficits, but they can recognize that people don’t understand them. This improves with treatment and as they get familiar with their new routines.
These tips from Debra may help nurses and other facility staff limit patient outbursts during their interactions:
- Limit situations where multiple staff are trying to provide instruction at the same time.
- Let them be independent.
- Allow extra time for the resident to complete activities they are capable of doing on their own.
- Show and then ask them to complete tasks, rather than making them do whatever action is being requested.
- Slow processes down.
- If the patient is hypersensitive to light or sound, try to limit noise and distractions.
- Turn off or lower the volume on televisions.
- Be aware of noises in community spaces that may feel jarring or intrusive, and try to avoid them.
- Encourage habits that allow the patient to improve communication.
- For example, when asking a question, allow 30 seconds for them to answer before you repeat it.
June is National Aphasia month. Find more tips on how to help people communicate better with aphasic patients and advice for families adjusting to a new diagnosis on the American Speech-Language Hearing Association website.