6 Strategies to Help Comprehension for Wernicke’s aphasia

In this type of fluent aphasia, it’s important to remember that comprehension of language, especially spoken language, is largely affected. Wernicke’s aphasia can be successfully treated, but it isn’t like non-fluent aphasia. You must use a different approach, so many people who don’t understand the difference may feel unsure of how to make progress. Persons with Wernicke’s aphasia often do not recognize their errors or understand that what they are saying is not what they think that they are saying. They don’t understand what you are saying either, but they can often understand social cues–smiling and nodding, laughing when others are laughing, etc. These social responses often lead family to believe that the person has a better understanding of speech than they actually do.

Strategies include:

  1. Use gestures when you speak. Gestures can represent objects or actions while you’re talking. This helps the person pair the auditory (when you say the word aloud) with a meaningful clue.
  2. Write down key words while speaking.  Using more than one method of communication is crucial to helping someone with aphasia understand.
  3. Talk about things that are relevant to “right now”. You’ll find that “do you want a drink?” when you’re at the dining table is understood better than “how are you getting to the doctor?” with no immediate context.
  4. Don’t shout if the person isn’t hard-of-hearing.  Raising your voice doesn’t make someone understand you better.
  5. Slow your speech a little when talking. Pause frequently for them to “catch up”. Most people with aphasia cannot process spoken language at the same rate that they used to, so slow your rate a speech a bit. This does not mean use a tone or phrasing you would use with a child, it means pause between sentences and don’t use complex language sequences.
  6. Be close enough to maintain eye contact. Don’t talk to them from across the room or from the other room where they can’t see you. People with aphasia need context and clues to assist with their comprehension.

Showing someone with Wernicke’s aphasia a plate, a fork and a spoon on a table and asking “Where’s the plate?” will not make any sense to them, nor will it help them relearn the object name (what it sounds like, how it’s spelled or what it looks like when written). You may see some therapists doing this over and over and getting no results. Imagine that you are the person with aphasia. Imagine that someone comes in every day and speaks to you in a language that you don’t understand and gives you no clues whatsoever about what they are talking about. Would you eventually guess that it has to do with something on the table? Would you become frustrated?

Read success stories for Wernicke’s aphasia–see our case studies here.

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