Speaking to Someone Who is Speech Impaired

Speech can become impaired as a result of illness such as Stroke, Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease or head injury. The following suggestions will help both the caregiver and the person being cared for less anxious and frustrated about changes in the ability to communicate.

1. Speak slowly and clearly. Don’t raise your voice as hearing has not been affected. Speak in a normal tone of voice.

2. Limit distractions. Sit close to the person in a quiet setting in order to avoid unnecessary strain or frustration.

3. Ask questions so that the answer is either yes or no. For example, instead of saying “what do you want for breakfast”? ask “Would you like cereal today?”. If he or she responds with a “no”, ask another question to determine choice.

4. Encourage the person receiving care to closely watch the speaker’s lips to help pick up clues to what is being said.

5. Ask the speaker to repeat what she said if you did not understand it. It may help if you encourage him or her to speak a little slower so that words are more concise.

6. Limit the time of your conversations so as not to tire the person.

7. Provide paper and pencil if necessary.

8. Demonstrate your willingness to take the time and make the effort to communicate.

9. Provide encouragement for the person to speak.

10. Do not lose your patience.

11. Don’t supply words. One of the easiest pitfalls is to try to anticipate the next word the person is going to use and supply it.

12. Don’t correct the person’s communication attempts. Be accepting of errors, and understand that speech and language will improve with time and proper training. Don’t say, “No, that’s wrong,” but “Let’s try that again.”

13. Discourage the person from remaining alone all day. When possible, a person should have opportunities to interact with others, in order to see that they can be accepted and can enjoy life despite their speaking difficulties.

14. Speak to a frail elderly person as an adult and not a child. Speaking down to the elderly may create feelings that could lead to frustration and depression, or resentment against you.

15. Give positive reinforcement (verbal and nonverbal) of the person’s progress.

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