AAC for Adults

Nov 7, 2018

When you have been using your voice for decades you can imagine the devestation when speaking aloud suddenly isn't a reliable option anymore.

Loss of speech in adults can happen following a stroke, traumatic brain injury or even after onset of ALS or another illness. Sometimes there is a complete loss of verbal ability, but other times the ability to speak gets jumbled and becomes difficult and unreliable.

In many cases, augmentative communication can help to bridge the gap and bring the words in a person's mind out into the open for others to hear.

Unfortunately, many skilled care centers, recovery facilities, and rehabilitation locations do not have access to AAC for their patients. Others mistakenly believe that since their hope is to help a person regain the ability to speak AAC will do nothing but impede that goal.

Often, this means that families are left to try to navigate their loved one's communication needs on their own.

Communication is an essential part of life. It not only allows people to express their needs and feelings it also gives them the power to learn, connect, and build relationships.

AAC empowers adults who need a way to communicate while they transition to new phases of ability, work to reclaim skills that have temporarily been lost, or rely on language reinforcement in certain situations.

Complete Loss of Voice:

When a person suffers the complete loss of their voice they often feel afraid, frustrated, angry, and alone. Offering them a way to communicate through AAC helps them regain their independence, control, and sense of self.

Being able to interact keeps a person from disconnecting from the world around them. It allows them to stay engaged with the life they know and the people they care about.

If it is known ahead of time that the person will likely lose their voice (like with a diagnosis of ALS), a family might consider the option of voice banking to connect the person's actual voice with an AAC option.

Every person needs the ability to express needs, share feelings, ask questions, make decisions, and build relationships. These needs don't go away simply because the person can no longer speak them aloud. AAC makes these opportunities possible for adults who can still think for themselves even if they cannot speak.

Temporary Loss of Voice:

There are times when a person loses the ability to speak, but can work to relearn that skill. While this process often takes time and focused effort, offering the individual the chance to communicate using AAC in the meantime can not only provide a way to express themself but also provide incentive to continue even if progress is slow.

Even when the communication is less than ideal, being able to nurture connections with the people around them, make decisions about their life, and stretch outside themself can be a powerful motivator for a person. AAC communication often helps people WANT to move forward to reclaim their previous communication skills.

Maybe the need for AAC will only be temporary and once speech is restored a person can move away from their digital voice. That is a time when a monthly AAC option might be the perfect fit. Use it while you need it, then cancel when you are ready to move on.

Occasional Language Reinforcement:

At times, speech functions do not disappear completely but they are disrupted by stroke, aphasia, brain injury or other situations. This may leave a person with the ability to think clearly, but not speak in a coherent way all the time. Words may get muddled or mixed up and the spoken message may not be clear.

Sometimes, a person finds it nearly impossible to communicate vocally in certain situations due to increased anxiety or added pressure.

This is another time that AAC can be a benefit.

One paper on this topic cited the example of a woman at her daughter's wedding who needed support to be able to voice relatives names. A person might also rely on a board of common phrases for quick social interactions where there is little time to compose words and thoughts or a board of everyday items for times when the word simply will not come.

The loss of speech can be devestating -- especially to someone who has relied on their voice for their entire life. But with AAC a person can grab hold of communication once again and be heard.

Melissa DeMoux

Former CoughDrop Director of Marketing and Support -- worked with AAC communicators & teams