Teach stroke victims sign language?

I was reading “For Better or Worse” today, and started wondering if it might be easier to teach sign language to people who have lost their speech due to a stroke.

But that assumes the problem has something to do with controlling spoken language only. I suppose if you can’t come up with the word ‘comb’, it would be just as hard to come up with the ‘sign’ for it?

For that matter, if a deaf person suffered the same type of mental damage, would he lose the ability to sign?

Strokes can do damage in multiple ways - paralysis can destroy the ability to speak but not the ability to process language. Sign language may help (but sign language requires two hands). In other cases, language capability is destroyed - changing from speech to sign will not help because the ability to process words has been impaired/damaged.

I read a book by a man who had suffered a stroke (I think), and was locked-in. He could not talk, and could only move a couple of fingers. He can hear, and process language. His means of communication are two buttons - one to start a letter scroller, and one to select a letter (and some whole words). It is a slow process, and he wrote a (pretty short) book. There is nothing wrong with his mind, or his insight, but he is trapped in his body. It was pretty inspiring.


There are several types of aphasia that affect stroke patients. In expressive aphasia, most people are able to re-learn speech. It would likely take longer to teach them to sign than for them to re-learn to speak. If the dominant hand isn’t affected, they can sometimes write, but not always.

The two other posters above have already pointed out the major issues with teaching sign language to stroke patients… on top of it, there’s the problem that sign language can be pretty complex, coordination-wise.

On top of it, aphasia isn’t just a brain-to-mouth issue. It’s not just a motor problem. The patient may be able to think of the right word, but the problem is not his or her inability to form the word and speak it as much as actually retrieve the word itself and THEN form the sounds to go with it. If you add, on TOP of that, trying to learn a new language system (say, ASL) with a brain that is struggling already? That’d be piling frustration over frustration on top of more frustration with a little frustration on the side.

After a nasty head injury, I had a difficult struggle with nominal aphasia as well as some spacial orientation issues. My short term memory was affected, my ability to retrieve words was shot and it was a painful process to get it to come back. Aphasia itself comes in different flavors - some patients will hear the words they are looking for in their heads but fail to be able to say them right. Others won’t be able to think of them. Some will hear them and struggle to speak them at all. Some remain trapped in their heads because of the paralysis problems that remain… Ugh. Uuuugh.

Anyway. If a stroke patient can relearn speech, they should. It’s easier than trying to relearn a language system at a time when the brain is already overtaxed.