Aphasia is a language impairment that affects speech – or the ability to understand speech – and sometimes the ability to read or write. It’s caused by damage to the area of the brain that controls language expression and comprehension.
Speech language pathologists at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center have specialized, expert training in aphasia diagnosis and treatment. Some of the common treatment methods include:
- Speech-language therapy
- Nonverbal communication therapies, such as computers or pictures
- Group therapy for patients and their families
Aphasia Can Happen to Anyone
Christy Williams, director of therapy operations at Patricia Neal, says both men and women are affected by aphasia.
“It can be very mild or it can be so severe that communication with the patient is nearly impossible,” Williams says.
Most cases of aphasia are related to stroke. Other possible causes are:
- Head trauma
- Brain tumor
- Neurodegenerative diseases
The symptoms of aphasia depend on which type a person has.
Global aphasia is the most severe form, with patients producing only a few recognizable words and understanding little or no words from others. Patients with global aphasia can neither read nor write.
Broca’s aphasia patients generally speak about four words at a time and those words don’t come easily. It may be difficult to write, but patients with this type can usually read fairly well and understand what others are saying.
Wernicke aphasia makes it hard for the patient to understand spoken words, but speech is barely affected. That’s why Wernicke’s aphasia is referred to as a “fluent aphasia.” Still, speech is far from normal. Reading and writing are often severely impaired.
Mixed non-fluent aphasia is a term used with patients who don’t speak well, are limited in comprehension of speech and can’t read or write beyond what would be expected in an elementary school student.
Anomic aphasia patients can speak well, but often can’t find the right words. This is also the case when they try to write.
Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA) progresses slowly and is caused by neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration.
Other types of aphasia
There are also many other possible combinations of issues that cause aphasia that don’t fit into these categories.
Living with Aphasia
Some people with aphasia fully recover without treatment, but for most people some amount of aphasia typically remains. If someone you care about is living with aphasia, a few simple gestures can help bridge the communication gap.
- Include the person with aphasia in conversations.
- Simplify language by using short, simple sentences.
- Repeat key words or write them down to clarify meaning as needed.
- Use a natural conversational manner at an adult level.
- Encourage all types of communication, including speech, gestures, pointing, or drawing.
- Don’t correct the person’s speech or condescend.
- Give the person plenty of time to express themselves.
- Help the person become involved outside the home, such as through support groups.
For some people, computers can be helpful for both communicating and improving language abilities.
Since sudden onset of aphasia can be a sign of stroke, if someone you know experiences sudden symptoms call 9-1-1. If someone you know has lingering effects of a stroke or brain injury, or has a progressive onset of aphasia, contact a physician to rule out other potential causes and ask about a referral to speech therapy.