One of the characteristics of expressive aphasias is the marked difficulty naming items in the environment. This does not only hinder communication but it can also be a source of frustration for the speaker with aphasia.
One of the techniques that are used in speech therapy is to teach speakers with aphasia to ‘talk around’ words; that is, to describe them. This is known as semantic feature analysis (SFA) in therapy and it is based on the idea of strengthening the semantic networks in the brain. Talking around words can mean mentioning some characteristics that a given item has, such as its color, size, or shape. Individuals can also describe the function of an object or the place where it is typically found. For example, if somebody were to describe an apple, they could say that it is red and has a round shape, that we eat it and that it is found in the supermarket.
For family members and/or caregivers of a speaker with aphasia: This strategy is widely used and may require several degrees of modeling to facilitate the task. Therefore, you can ask speakers with aphasia about those features to guide their answers. Do not forget communication is the ultimate goal, so if naming individual items is still too hard, try asking them ‘yes or no’ questions. If syllable production (e.g., yes, no) represents a challenge for them, give them visuals that they can relate to (e.g., a green square to signal ‘yes’ and a red square to signal ‘no’) and make them point them. Encourage the use of gestures to get the message across and, if writing is possible, stimulate their writing of words. Bare in mind that even the first letter of a word can already help you know what their message is.
Gemma Moya-Gale, M.A., M.S., CCC-SLP