Aphasia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

writing on a piece of paper

What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is a language impairment. That means that someone with aphasia has trouble producing and understanding speech. Sometimes, it is so severe that communicating with the person is almost impossible. Usually, a person with aphasia also has problems reading and writing.

Over two million people in America suffer from this condition. Thanks to advanced medical technology, more people who undergo a trauma can survive…but many have to learn how to cope with a disability. “Aphasia is also called ‘The Silent Disability’ says Julie Shulman, whose husband, Ayal, was diagnosed with Broca’s aphasia after a stroke. “Unlike many other disabilities, you cannot immediately see that someone has this disability,” Julie says.

What Causes Aphasia?

The most common cause of aphasia is a stroke. A stroke is caused by the blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. About a third of the people who have a stroke will suffer from aphasia. Sometimes brain injuries from head trauma, brain tumors, or infections can lead to this condition.

What are the Symptoms of Aphasia?

A person with aphasia will

  • speak in short or incomplete sentences.
  • substitute one word for another.
  • make up words.
  • write sentences that don’t make sense.
  • not be able to understand what you are saying.

Types of Aphasia

Global

This is the most severe form of aphasia. The person can produce only a few recognizable words and understands little or no spoken language. He cannot read or write. Depending on the degree of brain damage, the patient may rapidly improve.

Broca’s

Here speech output is limited to short utterances of less than four words. Sometimes, the person can understand speech relatively well and can read.

Wernicke’s

In this form of aphasia, the person has difficulty understanding spoken words, but can produce sentences. The sentences, however, do not hang together and irrelevant words intrude. Reading and writing are often severely impaired.

Treatment

The main treatment for aphasia is speech and language therapy. A speech and language therapist will carry out an assessment to check how the patient communicates. Then she builds up a program of language exercises to try and rebuild communication patterns. For example, she may start by teaching the person how to find the right words to put into sentences. Later, she may move on to reading and understanding instructions. Thanks to the neuroplasticity of the brain, a person can learn to use other parts of the brain to carry out functions that were previously done by a part of the brain that is now damaged.

The therapist may recommend communicating without using spoken words. The patient can sometimes find it easier to write, draw, make gestures, or use communication books and charts. There are also electronic communication aids and downloadable apps that can be used.

Often, family members participate in the process, helping the patient to relearn how to communicate.

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