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Aphasia is a complex disorder that can manifest itself differently with each individual patient. It can vary in cause, severity, and best course of treatment—so as a therapist, it is imperative to work collaboratively with your patient and their family toward recovery. To effectively collaborate, patients and their family should understand the intricacies of both the aphasia and its treatment.

Approaching those conversations isn’t always easy, so we enlisted the help of Hetal Patel, M.S., CCC-SLP and an Advanced travel SLP, to compile some best practices in educating your patients and their families to optimize treatment results:

1.) Always provide a definition of the diagnosis

What is aphasia? What type of aphasia does the patient have? It is important to use laymen’s terms to help aid in comprehension. Most families aren’t aware of how complex the language system is, so breaking it down for them is beneficial for their understanding as well as the patient’s. Families can help patients better compensate for their deficits if they understand where the deficits lie and why. 

2.) Provide examples

A great way to promote the use of learned strategies to generalized contexts is to provide the patient and family members examples of how a particular strategy can be adapted to various parts of their lives. In saying that, it is definitely important to make therapy functional for the patient. Functional communication is the foundation of human nature. Can the patient get their wants and needs met using these strategies? That’s a great place to start when considering treatment approaches, because if the patient cannot do so, then they may be less likely to try and carry out the strategies the therapist is providing as it may seem arbitrary. 

3.) Educate the patient and family that communication comes in MANY different forms

It’s important to let them know that depending on severity, the patient may not be able to communicate verbally as easily as they once could. This is where the SLP needs to help the family understand the difference between communication vs verbalization. Providing support to families and having an open discussion about various forms of communication (i.e., gestures, picture boards, AAC devices, etc.) will lend to a better overall outcome for the patient’s use of language not only to communicate wants and needs, but in social situations as well. 

4.) Involve family in therapy sessions as much as possible

After all, they are the ones who spend the most amount of time with the patient on a daily basis. That is not to say the family members should try to BE the therapist to the patient at home, but rather adapt and use techniques learned from the therapist within sessions to better aid functional communication within the home and community settings. Working together as a team doesn’t have to just end with the rehab team at the clinic—include the families and the patient when making decisions. Gains made in therapy are more likely to be maintained if the patient and families are on board with the plan of care from the start! 

5.) Never talk down to a patient because of their deficit

An aphasia diagnosis does not imply reduced intelligence. Educate the family in how to maintain social interactions and conversations in a way that the patient is still able to understand despite their diagnosis. Find a middle ground to help keep communication pleasant for them and encourage social communication. 

There are many resources out there for support once formal therapeutic intervention is complete. Always feel free to reach back out to your therapist if questions or situations arise. It’s SO important to build rapport with not only your patient, but with their family as well, from the beginning. Resources, such as https://www.aphasiaaccess.org/videos/, are helpful in providing strategies not only for the patients and families but also for the therapist! 

About Hetal Patel: Hetal has always been passionate about helping others and wanted to utilize her love for science and language somehow in her career. Hetal achieved her Master of Science in Speech Language Pathology at James Madison University. After completing her Clinical Fellowship with the Delaware Autism Program and working in a specialized school for almost 2 years, she decided it was time to take the leap into the world of travel therapy! Hetal has worked at many skilled nursing facilities all over the East Coast – Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, and is currently on assignment in Florida in an acute and outpatient setting!