Many speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can recall a patient with aphasia who was particularly successful in therapy. One thing these patients seem to have in common is an involved family member or care partner. In addition to anecdotes, the standard of treatment for aphasia is moving toward family-centered care. The Life Participation Approach to Aphasia (LPAA) states that all people affected by aphasia are entitled to receive care. It also places an emphasis on life participation goals. For most people, that includes conversation with their family and care partners.

Although SLPs know that an involved care partner is ideal, it can be a difficult topic to approach if the care partner is reluctant. Some tips for getting off to a good start include:

  • Presume positive intentions. Always begin with the assumption that the care partner wants to help their loved one. They might be scared, busy, and overwhelmed, which can be difficult to overcome. However, keeping them in a positive regard sets the stage for a successful therapeutic relationship.
  • Set the expectation of attendance and participation. Let the care partner know that therapy will work best if they are in the room and participating during sessions from the start.
  • Acknowledge their expertise. Some care partners might want to “stay out of the way.” Remind them that although you are the SLP, they know the patient better. Ask for their help with things you can target in therapy, such as family information or biographical details.
  • Teach specific strategies that will improve communication. Many care partners think that speech therapy is only for the person with aphasia. You can provide training in techniques geared toward them, such as Supported Conversation for Adults with Aphasia. By providing strategies to them, you are making them a more important piece of therapy.
  • Give them space to grieve. Although the patient is the one with aphasia, this has undoubtedly had a huge impact on their lives. They are likely going through their own grieving process.

Involving family is important for people with all types and severities of aphasia. However, it becomes even more important for people with severe aphasia. This is especially true if you are using an AAC device. Some people will always need partner support in order to successfully use an AAC device. This can be as simple as charging the device and turning it on in the morning. For others, it means they will need help navigating through the device. If someone is partner-dependent, it does not mean they are not a good candidate for an AAC device. However, it does mean that the care partner’s participation is critical to success. Encourage and empower the care partner to provide the needed support.

 

To learn more about caregivers and their daily challenges, download The 2020 Aphasia Caregiver Report.

 

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