After a stroke, difficulties speaking or understanding communication are common. Speech therapy is the primary treatment, whether your symptoms are mild or more severe.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. In total, that means more than 795,000 people have a stroke every year.

If you have had a stroke, or if you know anyone who has, you know that the effects can last well beyond the stroke itself.

One of the most common effects of a stroke is difficulties with speech and communication. This is known as aphasia. Aphasia can be mild or severe. Exact symptoms can vary between people.

This article explains aphasia and its symptoms, as well as how speech therapy can treat it.

Aphasia describes a chronic difficulty with language and communication. Aphasia is caused by conditions that affect the parts of your brain that control speech and language. It’s not related to intelligence.

Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia. Other common causes include:

Changes in your ability to speak and communicate following a stroke are very common. Research suggests one-third of all stroke survivors experience aphasia.

Different types of aphasia exist. The aphasia you experience can range from mild to severe.

Symptoms of aphasia might include difficulties with:

  • understanding other people
  • speaking
  • forming complete or grammatically correct sentences
  • using the right words to express your meaning
  • using numbers
  • reading
  • writing
  • telling time
  • handling money
  • following directions

Your symptoms might be mild and occasional, or they might be severe and constant.

For instance, you might sometimes confuse words when speaking or leave words out of sentences if your aphasia is mild. If your aphasia is severe, you might have trouble forming sentences or words at all.

Aphasia is often a long-term condition.

People with aphasia typically manage the condition for years.

However, aphasia affects each person recovering from a stroke in a unique way. It’s difficult to predict how someone will recover.

There are a variety of factors that can impact how long aphasia might last, such as:

  • the person’s age
  • the severity of the aphasia
  • how much additional brain damage occurred during the stroke
  • how much therapy the person receives

Progress can be slow. Achievements might come in small steps over years of therapy.

The primary treatments for aphasia after a stroke are done with the guidance of a speech and language therapist. A speech and language therapist can develop a treatment program based on your specific symptoms and needs.

What is speech therapy?

Speech therapy helps people improve their communication and language skills. Speech and language therapists use a range of techniques to assist people who have difficulties with expressing or understanding language. This might include:

This type of therapy can also help people who have difficulty chewing and swallowing.

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In many cases, family members and caregivers will also be part of your therapy sessions. They can learn the best tools to communicate with you and to help you communicate with them.

The person going through speech therapy may also experience more improvement if they have insight into their condition, which may mean the stroke was small enough and didn’t affect their thinking abilities. This means the person is more likely to actively participate in the therapy.

Common therapies following a stroke might include:

  • Cognitive linguistic therapy: Cognitive linguistic therapy is a type of speech therapy that focuses on an emotional response to language. This can strengthen language comprehension and understanding.
  • Stimulation-facilitation therapy: Stimulation-facilitation therapy focuses on grammar and word meaning to help people with aphasia relearn communication skills.
  • Programmed stimulation: Programmed stimulation uses sensory techniques, such as pictures and music, to help reinforce verbal communication skills.
  • Promoting Aphasic’s Communicative Effectiveness (PACE): PACE uses conversation as a learning tool through therapy sessions that use pictures and other prompts to practice communication.
  • Group therapy: This type of therapy allows people with aphasia to come together to practice the skills they have worked on during individual therapy.
  • Family therapy: During family therapy, people with aphasia and their family members and caregivers can practice communication in a guided setting.

Research estimates that 21% to 40% of people who recover from a stroke have permanent aphasia.

However, individual outcomes can vary and depend on many factors.

A person’s recovery outlook is individual and depends on their unique circumstances. Factors such as starting speech therapy early and being motivated in your own treatment can make a big difference in outcomes that are difficult to capture statistically.

A stroke can cause communication difficulties. This is known as aphasia. Symptoms can be mild or severe.

Aphasia is often a long-term condition. Recovery may take years and progress can be slow, even with treatment. Speech therapy is the most common treatment for aphasia after a stroke.

During speech therapy, a speech and language therapist helps you relearn communication skills and gives you the tools you need to manage aphasia.