Home Speech-Language Pathology Could Mindfulness Practice Be Helpful for People With Aphasia?

Could Mindfulness Practice Be Helpful for People With Aphasia?

by Annie Gatziolis
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mindfulness typed on typewriter

Aphasia therapy involves improving receptive and expressive language through traditional language approaches. Over the past few years, some research has started to indicate that non-linguistic factors may also affect auditory comprehension: Distractions that interfere with attention may negatively affect auditory comprehension in people with aphasia.

While most treatment approaches focus solely on linguistic deficits, I believe it is helpful to consider how other areas of cognition impact a person’s ability to interpret and produce language. I look to techniques from other disciplines for solutions when working on attention issues in clients with aphasia.

One such approach includes Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This evidence-based practice—developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School—helps reduce various psychological symptoms for people with chronic illness. MBSR uses western medicine and psychology along with Buddhist principles to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress.

To achieve stress-reducing mindfulness, a person must pay attention to the present moment while ignoring competing thoughts. Attaining a state of “mindfulness” involves internalizing seven attitude traits: non-judging, patience, beginners’ mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go. To reach this state, a person must sustain their focus and attention on all seven attributes. Therefore, a positive tertiary effect of mindfulness can include improved attention.

MBSR might relate particularly to speech-language treatment because participation does not simultaneously strain attention and language. If we believe impaired attention negatively affects auditory comprehension, then MBSR principles can potentially help bridge the gap between attention and language. I suggest SLPs find a professional specializing in MBSR to recommend for their clients. Our focus is language, but ideally the two professionals will collaborate with their treatment approaches.

I know a strong base of evidence is lacking to specifically apply MBSR principles to people with communication difficulties, but when I think about past patients who have experienced strokes—especially younger clients with mild aphasia—I wish I’d had MBSR resources to offer. According to the American Heart Association, 33 to 66 percent of people who have a stroke later suffer from depression. I can’t help but wonder whether or not I could have reduced my patients’ risk for depression and improved their language by putting them in contact with someone trained in this practice.

Many questions remain about using MBSR for patients with aphasia, such as: Who are the appropriate candidates for MBSR? How might a speech-language pathologist measure the benefit of MBSR on language goals? Perhaps with the help of functional MRI scans and collaboration with other professionals trained in MBSR techniques, we can begin to make deeper connections and continue to serve our patients.

Annie Gatziolis, MS, CCC-SLP, works in private practice focused on pediatric and health care settings. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 1, Language Learning and Education.


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Rajendra Prasad Sharma January 4, 2017 - 1:55 am

Good update
We will implement

Rajendra Prasad Sharma January 4, 2017 - 2:02 am

Good update
We will implement
I have worked with Aphasia cases(Post operative Heart surgery)
Depression , anxiety and stress observed
Mood changes

Annie Gatziolis January 6, 2017 - 8:25 am

Thank you for the feedback. I’d love to know your observations.

Full Spectrum Mama January 4, 2017 - 12:34 pm

What WONDERFUL post – my past experience as a yoga teacher and current life role as mother to a child on the spectrum seem to indicate that MSBR works in MOST settings.
Thanks and love,
Full Spectrum Mama

Annie Gatziolis January 6, 2017 - 8:35 am

Thank you for your feedback! What a lucky kid to have a mother who pulls from so many areas to help him thrive. Keep it up FSP, you’re doing great!

Susan Lederer January 4, 2017 - 1:11 pm

I am thrilled to see ASHA embracing the possibilities of mindfulness practices to support our interventions. I recently gave a presentation at the ASHA convention in Philadelphia on mindfulness practices to enhance attention and self-regulation in children and did an ASHA-approved CE webinar for speechpathology.com.

Annie Gatziolis January 6, 2017 - 8:37 am

Thank you for your feedback! I’d love to speak to you about your presentation and will definitely check out the webinar.

Ellen-Marie Silverman January 4, 2017 - 4:23 pm

As a clinician who has successfully resolved her own stuttering problem by applying what I learned by practicing mindfulness meditation over the course of almost two decades and who wrote the book outlining the practices used, “Mindfulness & Meditation. Using Eastern Strategies to Speak with Greater Ease,” that has been favorably received, I am pleased to see that you are considering including mindfulness practice in the therapy program of some people who have aphasia.

I, too, have worked with people who have aphasia, and I, too, believe mindfulness training that may change their brain physiology and strengthen their attention while enhancing their sense of well-being, as a number and an array of experimental research studies of people who do not have aphasia has shown it may. Even a few minutes practice each day, apparently provides behavioral and physiologic changes that facilitate new learning. But it is important to recognize that, as with any program of change, changes associated with mindfulness meditation do not follow any particular time table. So it is important to stick with the program for at least several months and then, if it is congenial, to continue with it indefinitely.

Before a clinician might suggest this practice to any client, I believe that the clinician first should have had experience practicing it for some time. That way the recommendation is more likely to be given appropriately and in a timely manner and the experiences of the client who adopts it more helpfully monitored.

Ellen-Marie Silverman, Ph.D.

Annie Gatziolis January 6, 2017 - 8:40 am

Thank you for the very thoughtful feedback. I agree with many of your points and am considering pursuing a Ph.D. to investigate some of the questions.

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