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Navigating the Holidays with Aphasia. Advice from those who have “been there.”

Submitted by hfannin on Thu, 12/12/2019 - 09:30

The holiday season is a joyous occasion---spending time with family &  friends, while delighting in traditions of the season. But for those experiencing the holidays with aphasia, the season may bring on anxiety and fear. So what advice would be helpful to families new to this situation this year?  I recently posed that question on Aphasia Recovery Connection Facebook page, and here’s what some people with aphasia (PWA) and their families had to say:

Cutting cookie dough with cookie cutters

Keep things normal

A holiday routine to look forward to may be comforting. Especially after a major life event. One wife of a PWA said she had her husband help with making candy and shopping for gifts. Your loved one may feel like a burden and want to withdraw, so adjust tasks for your loved one’s abilities. Encourage them by including them. 

Educate family ahead of time

Reach out to family & friends you expect to see this holiday season and explain what aphasia is and how it has affected your loved one’s communication and mood. One PWA said she  “hated being babied” by family. Let guests know what strategies work best for communication and what to avoid, like too many questions at once, or making choices for them. 

People talking at table

Include the PWA in the conversations

PWAs want to talk about the big football game, or hear how a young  family member is doing in college. Use simpler sentences. Give extra time to respond. One responder encouraged family not to “withdraw or ignore because you are unsure of the condition.” This is where education ahead of time helps. Does gestures or writing help? Are there topics your loved one can discuss pretty well or ones to avoid? If the PWA has been using picture communication, make sure it’s available.

Baby with Santa hat napping

Plan a quiet retreat

This by far was the #1 response! A room full of people can be overstimulating, especially after stroke or brain injury. The brain attempting to process all the sights & chatter can bring on fatigue. Plan a place off limits to guests where your loved one can rest awhile. Make sure to check in periodically with the PWA or create a “signal” to let you know it’s time to retreat!

Aphasia Recovery Connection is the largest online community for people with aphasia & caregivers. Check them out at