Aphasia is a condition that makes it difficult for people to process language. It is caused by damage to brain areas that control language, such as Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. The severity of aphasia depends on the brain area affected and the extent of the damage.
Some people with aphasia have trouble understanding spoken or written language. Others are able to speak in grammatical sentences, but the words they use do not make sense to the listener. And others may have trouble getting the words out.
Aphasia is quite common after a stroke, but it can have other causes too, such as a brain tumor or traumatic brain injury.
Aphasia may improve as a person recovers from the stroke or brain injury. Patients may also work with speech pathologists and use gestures or pictures to communicate. Technology can be a helpful tool for people with aphasia as well.
Communication is an essential part of sexuality, and couples coping with aphasia can become easily frustrated and disheartened. Past studies have found that sexual desire and frequency can decrease after aphasia caused by stroke. Sex can be a challenging topic for any couple, and communication difficulties can make it even harder to address.
Fortunately, there are strategies couples can use for intimacy, even when one partner has aphasia. Consider these tips:
- Make your relationship a priority. Intimacy doesn’t always have to be sexual. Spending quality time with your partner can foster trust and companionship.
- Make spoken communication easier. When speaking, use short, clear sentences and a conversational tone. Try to reduce any background noise or distractions. And stay patient. It may take some extra time for a person with aphasia to understand messages and respond to them.
- Use pictures or objects. Look for photos or drawings that depict what you are trying to say. Or consider drawing a picture yourself. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Holding or pointing to objects might also help. For example, you or your partner might smile and point to the bed as a way to say, “Let’s be intimate.”
- Use gestures. Physical expressions of intimacy, like smiling, holding hands, hugging, slow dancing, and kissing, can help your partner feel more secure. You can use gestures during sex as well. For example, if you would like to be touched in a certain way, take your partner’s hand and demonstrate.
- Use written communication. Try exchanging letters, keeping a small notepad within reach, or simply exchanging text messages or your phone or tablet.
Staying in touch with a doctor and speech pathologist is also important for couples coping with aphasia. Both partners may need to learn some new ways of communicating. Healthcare providers can suggest resources, support networks, and products specifically for people with aphasia and their partners.
Aphasia Corner Blog
Palmer, Sara and Jeffrey B. Palmer
“Sexual Intimacy after a Stroke”
(July 13, 2011)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
(Last Updated: March 6, 2017)
University of Western Ontario
“Critical Review: The effects of aphasia on sexuality and intimacy within a spousal relationship”