Having a Social Life After a Stroke
An active social life is one of the best ways to boost recovery after a stroke. Yet many stroke survivors are left with lingering language problems, called aphasia, which make it harder to communicate with others. As a result, they often cut back on social contacts at a time when they need friends and family the most.
Your role in social events might change after the stroke. Instead of being the jokester, you might be the person who laughs at jokes. If you were the person who organized all the family hikes, you might now be a quiet participant in those outings. The key is to participate in events, but in different ways that are still satisfying and important.
With time, many people with aphasia go on to enjoy a rich, rewarding social life. In fact, some have better relationships than before because they put more time and effort into them. If you’re working to rebuild your own social circle after a stroke, the tips below can help.
Early in Your Recovery
When you’re first adjusting to aphasia, it’s common to feel uncomfortable in social situations. You may lack confidence in your ability to communicate, so you hesitate to speak up. Or you may feel as if other people talk around you rather than to you.
Many of your friends may feel ill at ease as well. They may not know how to handle their feelings or get a conversation going. Rather than working to resolve these issues, some may simply avoid the situation and stay away.
You may not speak as well or fully understand fast-paced conversations, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate in verbal interchanges. Speech-language therapy can help you make the most of your language abilities and regain your social confidence. You may learn to rely on other forms of communication, such as gestures, drawing, communication books, or even speech devices, to get your message across. As your skills improve, you’ll find it easier to connect with old friends and make new ones.
Educate your friends about your condition. Explain what your limitations are and how you can work together to overcome them. Your speech-language pathologist can suggest specific strategies for enhancing communication. For example, it may help if the other person asks yes/no questions, uses simple sentences, emphasizes or writes down key words, speaks slowly, and gives you extra time to respond. If necessary, you can also gently remind the person to speak to you directly and address you as an adult.
Practice with a Partner
Consider practicing conversation with a trusted partner. Start with scripts that you write up with that partner. Practice them privately and then in public. Keep the conversation basic and the environment quiet and free of distractions, such as music, TV, or other people talking in the background.
As you grow more comfortable, gradually add more conversational partners. They might include not only your family and friends, but also other people with aphasia in a speech-language therapy group. Practice key phrases—such as “How are you?” or “Did you see that game?”—so you’ll be ready to make small talk. Continue to limit distractions in the environment while you solidify your skills.
As Socializing Gets Easier
When you feel ready, start easing back into community activities. Begin with something familiar, such as a club meeting, church event, or neighborhood get-together. You might also consider joining a stroke support group.
Gradually, work up to tackling a new social situation. Try going to a new restaurant, working in a community garden, trying a new hobby that isn’t based on language (such as fishing or painting), or taking on a volunteer job. Don’t rush it, which will only stress you out. You’ll reach this point in your own time.
4 Keys to Social Success
Your social life might look different after your stroke, but it can still be an active one, with new roles or new activities. These tips can help keep it worthwhile and fun:
Come prepared. Practice some handy phrases before you arrive at a gathering. At times, you might also want to bring along communication aids, such as pictures, written words, or an electronic device that speaks for you.
Arrive rested. Communicating is like anything else: You can do a better job when you’re rested and relaxed. Don’t overdo the alcohol in an effort to feel less tense, however. No one communicates well under the influence.
Tune out noise. If noise starts to bother you, seek out a quiet corner or room. When appropriate, ask the host to turn down or turn off background music, which makes it harder to concentrate on what people are saying. Choose restaurants or venues that are quieter, and schedule activities earlier in the day.
Don’t give up. You have a lot to contribute to the conversation, so keep trying until you get your point across.