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June is Aphasia Awareness Month

Understanding Aphasia

Aphasia is a disorder that affects how you communicate. It can impact your speech, as well as the way you write and understand both spoken and written language. Aphasia usually happens suddenly after a stroke or a head injury. However, it can also come on gradually from a slow-growing brain tumor or a disease that causes progressive, permanent damage (degenerative). The severity of aphasia depends on a number of things, including the cause and the extent of the brain damage.

The main treatment for aphasia involves treating the condition that causes it, as well as speech and language therapy. The person with aphasia relearns and practices language skills and learns to use other ways to communicate. Aphasia is a symptom of some other condition, such as a stroke or a brain tumor.

A person with aphasia may:

  • Speak in short or incomplete sentences
  • Speak in sentences that don't make sense
  • Substitute one word for another or one sound for another
  • Speak unrecognizable words
  • Have difficulty finding words
  • Write sentences that don't make sense

People with aphasia may have different strengths and weaknesses in their speech patterns. Sometimes these patterns are labeled as different types of aphasia, including:

  • Broca's aphasia- In this form the speech output is severely reduced and is limited to short utterances of less than four words.
  • Wernicke aphasia- In this form the ability to grasp the meaning of spoken words is chiefly impaired, while the ease of producing connected speech is not much affected.
  • Transcortical aphasia- This kind of aphasia involves damage to the specific areas of the temporal lobe of the brain.
  • Conduction aphasia- It is an acquired language disorder, it is characterized by intact auditory comprehension, coherent speech production, but poor speech repetition.
  • Mixed aphasia- This is like Global aphasia, except that they can still repeat what people say to them.
  • Global aphasia- the most severe form of aphasia and is applied to patients who can produce few recognizable words and understand little or no spoken language.

These patterns describe how well the person can understand what others say. They also describe how easy it is for the person to speak or to correctly repeat what someone else says.

The most common cause of aphasia is brain damage resulting from a stroke, the blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain. Loss of blood to the brain leads to brain cell death or damage in areas that control language. Brain damage caused by a severe head injury, a tumor, an infection or a degenerative process also can cause aphasia. In these cases, the aphasia usually occurs with other types of cognitive problems, such as memory problems or confusion.

Because aphasia is often a sign of a serious problem, such as a stroke, seek emergency medical care if you or a loved one suddenly develop:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Trouble understanding speech
  • Difficulty with word recall
  • Problems with reading or writing

For more information on understanding aphasia, read here.