Communicating With Someone Whose Brain Is Sick

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Communicating With Someone Whose Brain Is Sick

Some people with normal hearing can develop difficulty understanding what is said to them due to a brain injury, illness or dementia. The following ideas from Beaumont speech pathologist Susan Howell Brubaker can help enhance your interactions and reduce frustration:

1. Get the person's attention and make sure you have eye contact before you begin speaking. Stand or sit in front of the person.

2. Turn off the TV and/or radio, and minimize other distracting noise or activity in the room. Only one person should be speaking at a time.

3. Use adult vocabulary but shorter, noncomplex sentences. Break down information into smaller bits. Emphasize important words.

4. Speak slowly and distinctly.


5. Use your natural voice. Don't yell or talk down to the person. Treat the person as an adult.

6. If the person is hard of hearing, make sure you have direct eye contact and speak only as loudly as needed.

7. Start your communication by saying what subject you will be talking about. Communicate one message at a time and take a break between different subjects. For example: "Let's talk about what your grandchild did." or "Let's talk about your headache," while pointing to the head.

8. Add gestures or writing to your message if appropriate. For example, if you are reminiscing about a plane trip to California, you could write the word "California" and the date you went, and use a gesture for flying.

9. Use appropriate facial expressions to the message you are conveying. If it is social conversation, smile. If it is an instruction, look pleasant but serious. If you are asking a question, indicate you want a response through voice inflection and by raising your eyebrows.

10. If you are not sure the person understands, ask him to repeat what you said in his own words. If that is difficult, ask direct yes or no questions or questions with a choice of answers. For example: Is your doctor appointment today? Do you see the doctor on Tuesday or Wednesday?