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What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a condition that causes people to have problems communicating. This includes problems with speaking, writing, and understanding speech and written words. It’s caused by damage to the brain (e.g., brain injury, stroke). It doesn’t affect a person’s intelligence.

Recognizing Aphasia

Aphasia can range from mild to severe. Some people’s problems are so mild that strangers don’t even notice them. Other people have severe communication problems that prevent them from com​municating their basic needs or understanding what people say.

Aphasia can affect people’s lives differently. Some examples are listed below.

Mild Aphasia

Speaking and language expression: Bill used to be a public speaker and enjoyed giving presentations as part of his job. Now, he has trouble finding words and needs to write everything down before his presentations. He no longer enjoys the presentation part of his job and is thinking of switching to a new job.

Moderate Aphasia

Writing: Often, when Chad tries to write his grocery list, some of the groceries are spelled incorrectly. When he goes to the store, he sometimes can’t read his own list.

Severe Aphasia

Understanding what you’ve heard: Mary used to be a teacher. Now, her husband has to repeat things to her often. He uses short sentences and says the key words many times so she’ll understand. If she still has trouble, he tries to draw a picture or use gestures to help her understand. Often, she just says, “Oh, never mind.”

Understanding what you’ve read: Rose used to read 3 or 4 novels a month. Now, she gets frustrated because she can’t understand newspaper headlines.

How to communicate with someone who has Aphasia

  • Communicate one to one and have as few distractions as possible (e.g., make sure there’s no background noise like TVs or radios).
  • Communicate face to face. Seeing your facial expression and mouth helps the person understand.
  • Be respectful of the person you’re communicating with. Talk in a normal voice and include the person in conversations. Don’t avoid adult topics.
  • Understand that a person with aphasia is as smart as they were before. Say, “I know you have something to say, but it’s hard to get it out,” or “I know you know.”

Trouble expressing oneself (Expressive Aphasia)

If a person with aphasia has trouble getting words out, here’s what you could do:

  • Accept and encourage all communication attempts (e.g., gestures, writing, drawing, facial expressions).
  • Give the person a chance to communicate. Watch, listen, and wait for the person with aphasia to get the message out.
  • Check to make sure you understand the message. Tell the person what you understand so they know what information to add. Ask yes or no questions (e.g., “Are you saying you would rather walk to the store?”).
  • Don’t pretend you understand. If you don’t understand, say so. Let the person know you want to understand and you’ll try again. Ask the person to use a gesture or write if they’re able. Ask them to explain what they mean.

Trouble understanding (Receptive Aphasia)

If a person with aphasia has trouble understanding, here’s what you could do:

  • Use other ways to communicate besides talking. Use extra supports, such as writing key words, drawing and pointing to objects, pictures, or photographs. It’s best to use one support at a time.
  • Speak slowly. Pause between sentences.
  • Watch and wait. Watch the person’s facial expression and body language to make sure they understand you before you go on or add more information.
  • Repeat information. Repeat the message using the same words or different ones.
  • Keep the message short and simple. Speak in short phrases and sentences. ​​​​​

Where to go get help

For more information about how speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help, contact:

  • Your doctor, public health nurse, or other health provider
  • Your local health centre

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