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Communication problems

Communicating is more than just what we say. It is how we say things and what we understand from what is said to us.

Communication comes in different forms, including verbal (spoken), written word, lip reading, sign language and even body language.

Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to communicate with the people around us, especially if you need to discuss something unpleasant or you are unsure whether the person will understand you.

Carer's tip from Netbuddy

"Often we do so much for people they don't have the need or opportunity to communicate. This is where 'sabotage' can come in. Put toys or important objects in a place where the person needs to ask for them; give a meal with no cutlery (again, so they have to ask). Find ways to manipulate situations to necessitate communication."


Visit Netbuddy to read more carers' tips

Difficulty communicating

Sometimes you may find it difficult to communicate because you are uncomfortable discussing a subject, for example, if you have bottled-up emotions and are stressed. You may not feel like communicating because you're physically unwell yourself.

However, it's important to have someone you can share your troubles with. There are support organisations you can talk to if you don't feel comfortable talking to family or friends. You might also find your local carers' centre helpful – you can find contact details on the directory of carers' local services.

Causes of communication problems

Communication issues might arise from a physical condition such as hearing difficulties or visual impairment, or as a result of a condition affecting the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease or stroke. These communication problems may come on gradually or could happen overnight, leaving you unprepared and unsure how best to communicate with the person.

You should bear in mind that someone who has a physical or mental illness or disability may be affected by your own and other people's reactions to their condition. This could have an impact on their ability to communicate.

If a person's hearing or sight is impaired, body language and tone of voice will become more important. They may also need to learn new skills so they can communicate, such as sign language or lip reading.

If a condition or impairment develops suddenly, you'll need to re-evaluate your methods of communication with that person. It might feel strange at first, but you might need to consider your tone of voice, how quickly you speak, and how you use body language and gestures to emphasise what you are saying. It's a good idea to express this to the person you care for and find out what helps them or makes your communication clearer.

Sources of support

There are many different organisations that help people with communication problems. The Aiding Communication in Education Centre offers help and support for children who have complex physical and communication difficulties, and for their parents, carers or therapists.

The charity I Can works to foster the development of speech, language and communication skills. They have a special focus on children with a communication disability.

Click on the bars below for more detailed information on the communication issues that carers may face, or call the Carers Direct helpline on freephone 0300 123 1053.

Speech and language problems

Speech disorders are communication disorders that interrupt speech. They can result from a stammer, cleft palates, brain injuries, hearing loss or for no known reason. Language disorders are problems understanding words or using them, such as difficulties resulting from a stroke or a brain injury.

Some people grow out of these disorders during their childhood, while others live with them throughout their adult life. Speech and language therapy can help, particularly in younger people. You can access this through your child's special education needs co-ordinator or your GP.

For more information, watch this video about speech and language therapy in which a speech and language therapist explains how the therapy works and who can benefit from it.


Deafblind people have an impairment to both vision and hearing. Some impairments are congenital (the person is born deafblind), while others may come later in life through an accident or old age. People who are deafblind may not communicate through words, and it can be difficult to work out the best way to communicate with them. Sometimes, deafblind people have difficulty understanding the world around them and this can make them behave in difficult or inappropriate ways. You may find communicating with a deafblind person frustrating and slow, but with patience and trust, a form of communication can develop.

Rehabilitation after a stroke

A stroke can cause mental and physical impairments, and can make communicating with someone difficult. The person who has had the stroke may find it hard to form words or understand what someone says to them, and this may make it difficult for you to work out what they want. If the person has problems with speech, language, writing or swallowing, they might be referred for speech therapy to help them regain those skills.

When communicating with someone who is recovering from a stroke, it's important to give them your full attention and try to avoid any background distractions. Try to speak clearly at a normal volume and make sure you are listening and watching for the person's reactions, as not all communication is verbal. It's important that you do not pretend you've understood the person if you haven't, or try to speak for them.

You can get support with stroke-related illness and disability from the Stroke Association, including information, family support, welfare and stroke clubs. The Stroke Association also has volunteers who work to improve the communication skills of people post-stroke.

Speech delay

Children learn to talk by listening to the people around them and mimicking sounds and mouth shapes. As they develop their language skills, they copy the intonation and speech patterns of those around them. It helps to talk to your child and encourage sounds and speech from an early age. If their progress seems to be delayed, it's a good idea to take them to your doctor for a check-up.


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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

Call Carers Direct on 0300 123 1053

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Carer Gail Hanrahan (left), with son Guy, who has a learning disability

Bringing up a disabled teenager

Guy's mum Gail worked hard to ensure that he had the best future possible when he became an adult

Speech and language therapy

A speech and language therapist explains how the therapy works and who can benefit from it.

Media last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015

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