Agnosia and aphasia are two neurological conditions that can begin after a brain injury. Aphasia causes problems in expressing and understanding language. Agnosia causes problems with identifying objects, people, or sounds with one of your senses.

Aphasia is characterized by problems expressing or comprehending spoken and written language. It’s caused by damage to the parts of your brain responsible for processing language, which is on the left side in most people.

Agnosia is the inability to identify objects, sounds, or people using one or more of your senses. It results from damage to the parts of your brain that interpret sensory information. The type of agnosia you develop depends on the part of your brain that’s damaged.

Read on to learn more about agnosia and aphasia, including their symptoms, causes, and treatments.

Here’s a look at the symptoms of agnosia and aphasia.

Agnosia symptoms

People with agnosia may be unable to recognize or identify people, sounds, or objects using one or more of their senses. The problem isn’t attributed to:

  • their memory
  • their attention
  • their language ability
  • an unfamiliarity with the object, person, or sound

There are three subcategories of agnosia depending on which sense it affects. These are:

  • visual agnosia, which is most common
  • auditory agnosia
  • tactile agnosia

An example of visual agnosia would be seeing a bird but being unable to name it as a bird despite your familiarity with it. A person with auditory agnosia might not be able to identify a bird by its sound, and a person with tactile agnosia wouldn’t be able to recognize it by feeling its feathers.

Aphasia symptoms

Aphasia can impair your ability to:

  • understand spoken language
  • understand written language
  • speak
  • write

There are two main types of aphasia. These are:

  • Fluent (Wernicke’s) aphasia: A person with fluent aphasia can speak with a normal rate and intonation, but their sentences include words that aren’t correct or are made up. For example, they might say something like, “The dachshund funny ball motoes yesterday of her.”
  • Non-fluent (Broca’s) aphasia: A person with non-fluent aphasia has trouble speaking with proper grammar. They may speak in short, choppy sentences and omit words. For example, they might say, “Dog feed” instead of, “I will feed the dog.”

Learn more about the types of aphasia.

Agnosia and aphasia both result from brain damage. They can start suddenly or slowly depending on their cause.

Agnosia causes and triggers

The type of agnosia you develop depends on the location of your brain injury. Potential causes include:

Aphasia causes and triggers

Aphasia develops when the part of your brain that helps you interpret and produce language is damaged. Aphasia has many of the same underlying causes as agnosia. The underlying cause is most often a stroke.

It’s important to seek medical attention if you or someone you know develops potential symptoms of a neurological condition, such as:

  • having trouble speaking
  • having difficulty understanding people
  • not being able to identify common objects
  • frequently having trouble coming up with the necessary words

Doctors diagnose agnosia based on the characteristic signs and symptoms of the condition combined with supportive evidence from tests. These tests may include:

The diagnostic process for aphasia is similar. A doctor will also likely refer you to a speech-language pathologist, who’ll perform a comprehensive examination of your ability to communicate.

Here’s a look at the treatment options for agnosia and aphasia.

Agnosia treatment

Agnosia is mostly manageable with supportive treatments, such as:

  • rehabilitation for the underlying injury
  • speech therapy
  • occupational therapy, which can teach people compensation techniques, such as:
    • learning to use another sense to identify objects or people
    • labeling everyday objects, which can help people with visual agnosia
    • making it a habit to keep everyday objects in the same place all the time

Aphasia treatment

People with aphasia often dramatically improve in the months following their injury, even without treatment. Speech-language therapy can help treat lingering problems with language.

You might be able to lower your risk of developing agnosia or aphasia by minimizing your risk of brain damage. Some steps you can take include:

  • wearing a helmet when playing contact sports
  • avoiding situations with a high risk of head trauma
  • taking steps to avoid diabetes, heart disease, and other risk factors for stroke
  • keeping your body weight within a healthy range
  • avoiding airborne toxins, such as diesel and gasoline fumes, as much as possible — especially if you’re pregnant

Here are some frequently asked questions that people have about agnosia and aphasia.

Is agnosia a type of aphasia?

Agnosia isn’t a type of aphasia. Agnosia is the inability to recognize an object, sound, or person with one of your senses. Aphasia is difficulty producing or understanding language.

What’s the difference between agnosia and anomia?

Agnosia causes problems with identifying objects with one or more of your senses. Anomia is the most common symptom of aphasia. It’s the inability to retrieve the words for what you want to say.

What’s the difference between apraxia, agnosia, and aphasia?

Apraxia is a neurological condition that occurs when you’re unable to perform a physical task when asked. Apraxia of speech is when somebody knows what they want to say but can’t plan and sequence the movements required to produce the sound.

Treatment for both agnosia and aphasia revolves around managing your symptoms. People with aphasia often have significant improvements in their symptoms over time.