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Top tips to help with speech and communication difficulties

We teamed up with Neuro-oncology specific Speech and Language Therapist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Julie Emerson, to share some tips and techniques to help with speech problems and communication difficulties.

Unfortunately, one side-effect of a brain tumour is speech problems and difficulty with your cognition (the mental process involved in knowing, learning, and understanding things). We understand that this can feel frustrating, upsetting and isolating. But we are here with you at every step of your diagnosis, to help you adjust and improve your quality of life.

Something to remember

Remember to be kind to yourself if you’re struggling. The tumour itself, the stress of the situation, the effects around the time of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and fatigue, seizures and anti-epileptic medications can all play a part in how well we’re able to communicate. 

Discuss your concerns with your medical team if you have new or increasing problems. They’re there to help you and can advise techniques and methods which could improve some difficulties.

Top tips for coping with speech and cognition problems

Remember your intelligence is not affected

Difficulties with speech and cognition doesn’t mean you’re any less intelligent.

Ask for help when you need it

Tell friends or family that you want to be involved in a conversation and perhaps ask them to support you and help you to break into the conversation.

Practice with others

You may feel more comfortable with family and some trusted friends initially. Alternatively, speech therapy teams and communication charities offer groups where you may feel comfortable practicing your communication with people who understand.

Prepare 

Get ready for appointments, meetings or telephone calls by writing any questions you have or things you want to say in advance. This can help you feel more clear on what you want to get across and gives you time to think beforehand rather than ‘on the spot’.

Don’t compare a good day to a bad one

It’s important to be aware that your communication will vary from day-to-day and that you’ll have good days and bad days. So don’t be hard on yourself if one day you struggle more than the last.

Take a break if you need to

You may notice you feel tired, as it takes more concentration than usual to communicate. It’s okay to take a break rather than force things at that time.

Plan your time with family or friends

This could be choosing the best time of day for you to meet, talking on the phone if possible, having shorter visits, or doing things together where you don’t need lots of conversation, like listening to music, watching TV, or playing a game together.

Be upfront

There are times you may feel a little out of the conversation or slower to respond and this can feel uncomfortable. You don’t have to explain your medical history. But, if you can, try to let people know upfront that you have difficulty. If you address it head on, people usually feel more comfortable. If you don’t mention it, they may ‘back off’ as they don’t know what to do. For instance, try saying ‘my speech isn’t as good today. Can you be patient?’ or ‘I sometimes have a problem with my speech. Can you give me a bit of time?’ Find a phrase you feel comfortable with.

Recap

If you lose your train of thought, ask a listener if they can help recap for you and try to go back over what you were talking about. If it doesn’t come back to you, don’t force it. Putting pressure on yourself can stop recall. Go back to it in a few minutes if possible.  

Get the listener’s attention

Ensure the person you’re trying to talk to knows you’re trying to speak. Calling their name or gently touching them can help.

Introduce the topic

Before you begin speaking, it can be helpful to mention the topic first with a key word or phrase. For instance, using this tip and the one above, you could say “Jenny, about work…”

Break things down

Using shorter sentences, stressing important words and breaking longer words into syllables when talking (for instance: tel/ e/ vis/ion) are all good ways of giving yourself time to talk and ensuring your speech is clear. You may also find writing longer or more difficult words helpful too.

Describe it

If you’re struggling to recall something, try to describe what you mean. This helps the listener understand what you’re trying to say, and often helps you recall the word. For instance “it’s the thing I listen to, it plays music, it’s in the kitchen, it’s green, you turn the knob, has news on, you can find Radio 2… that’s it… radio”.

    About the author

    Julie is the neuro-oncology specific Speech and Language Therapist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.

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