The Stroke Suppression
Have you ever been misunderstood? How did it make you feel? How did you overcome it?
If you are in position to care for someone with communication difficulties, you will immediately know the frustration and pain of miscommunication and the immense patience and perseverance that is needed by both parties. Sometimes I feel it is not dissimilar to living in another country where you don't read or speak the local language, as I have done. Your world gets very small very quickly, leaving you with your own thoughts a lot of the time. But the sense of elation when finally you get what you wanted, or have been able to be understood correctly is amazing.
The insight this has given me, helps me daily as I care for a family member who cannot speak well following a severe stroke many years ago. But as they get out and about, there is more and more need for communication with others. Some friends are excellent at attempting communication and persevering over time, while others, understandably, struggle and move on. So how to help those willing to go the distance?
We communicate in so many situations in life but is it worth it to try and communicate with people who don’t appear to be able to respond to us? Or if you like, how would you feel if it were you maybe trapped in your own body, limited to express yourself clearly for one reason or another?
Of course, every human being needs stimulation of all its senses to survive and even though it may appear that someone may not be responding to you, the body still triggers impulses and reactions still happen in their brains, even if they do not get to the end result i.e. appropriate speech.
The art of communication is a very complicated and diverse system which of goes back to the beginning of time. Throughout history it has changed and developed in to many languages, as well as within those there are many differing dialects which in themselves seem to form a different language.
For some who cannot communicate in conventional ways, fortunately only 7% on communication is the actual words spoken. Other methods have been developed to assist with this these include differing forms of sign language and the use of pictures, as well as reading body gestures. There have also been tremendous advances in technology to help aid communication this like cochlea implants to replace the tympanic membrane allowing people to hear, speech processor modules which allow people to speak, translator computers that can translate from one known language to another effortlessly (although some still not so accurately).
All of these are great breakthroughs for most but when you have people who do not recognise that they have problems with communication then this is where we need to be physically proactive and use our knowledge and senses to work for them. This is the case with people who are showing outward signs of memory loss the signs are seen by family and friends but not by the individual.
So to overcome this problem we must be very patient and use our ears and eyes to listen to what they are saying. You may have to listen to the same thing many times before you get to the bottom of what they are trying to get across to you. This is where the phrase “you have two ears and only one mouth” comes in to play meaning that we should take more time to listen than we do to talk.
This is also common with people with have had Strokes, head/brain injuries and aneurysms all of which can cause damage to the way that the brain processes information and then tries to communicate the individual know the words they wish to say but they don’t seem to be able to get them out or in some cases the wrong word comes out.
Tried and Tested Tips
Some useful tips and phrases that can be tried with each individual are:
If they are struggling to find a word, encourage them to try again as they may just need time to find the right one and get it out.
If you think they are getting too frustrated, which in itself can prevent the correct communication getting out, try "Would you like me to try to help you (find the word)?"
Don't be afraid to offer suggestions, or ask what the topic is about so that your guessing can be narrowed down. E.g. Is it something to eat? or Is it something wrong in the house?
Answering yes or no is often easier than finding the word so even though more questions might be needed, it might still be quicker to get to the right meaning.
Don't be afraid to repeat options to check that they answered yes or no correctly. E.g. Did you mean to say yes/no?
And there is always a fallback of pointing/ show me or can they write/draw it.
If no speech is possible, blinking once or twice for yes and no could be an option, or hand gestures such as a thumbs up or down.
There are technological advances that can help with communication, such as electric boards that can be programmed to voice certain commands at the push of a button. Such things can be hired or borrowed from some libraries or bought via the Internet.
So as you can probably tell, communication difficulties are a regular part of our lives, enhancing our training abilities and sensitivities to communication issues, be that language and culture, or disability and illness.