Aphasia is a communication disorder due to brain damage in one or more areas of the brain that control language. It can interfere with your verbal communication (getting words mixed up when speaking), written communication, or both.
Aphasia can cause problems with your ability to:
- understand speech
There are a few different types of aphasia. The type depends on the part of the brain that has suffered damage.
According to the National Aphasia Association, aphasia affects about 2 million people in the United States, but many people have never heard of it.
Just because someone is living with aphasia does not mean they have a mental disorder or have lowered intelligence.
Symptoms of aphasia can vary from mild to severe. They depend on where the damage occurs in your brain and the severity of that damage.
Many of the symptoms of the different types of aphasia can overlap, which is why it’s essential to get a medical professional’s opinion if you believe you or someone you love is living with aphasia.
Aphasia can affect your:
- expressive communication, which involves using words and sentences
- receptive communication, which involves understanding the words of others
Symptoms that affect expressive communication can include:
- speaking in short, incomplete sentences or phrases
- speaking in sentences that others can’t understand
- using the wrong words or nonsense words
- using words in the wrong order
Symptoms that affect receptive communication can include:
- difficulty understanding other people’s speech
- difficulty following fast-paced speech
- misunderstanding figurative speech
Aphasia occurs most often as a result of damage to one or more areas of your brain that control language.
Aphasia can occur due to:
- a brain tumor
- an infection
- dementia or another neurological disorder
- a degenerative disease
- a head injury
- a stroke
Strokes are the most common cause of aphasia. According to the National Aphasia Association, aphasia occurs in 25 to 40 percent of people who’ve had a stroke.
When to see a doctor
Because aphasia is often the result of a stroke, it’s essential to speak with a doctor if you suddenly have difficulty:
- comprehending others
Or, if you suddenly develop:
- a weak or numb feeling in your arm
- walking difficulties
- drooping on one side of your face
- a severe headache
A stroke is not always painful. Knowing
Causes of temporary aphasia
Seizures or migraine can cause temporary aphasia.
Temporary aphasia can also occur due to a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which temporarily interrupts blood flow to your brain. A TIA is sometimes called a “ministroke.“
The effects of a TIA include:
- numbness of certain body parts
- difficulty speaking
- difficulty understanding speech
A TIA is different from a stroke because its effects are temporary, but it can also be a precursor to an actual stroke. Anyone who believes they’ve just dealt with a TIA should talk with a doctor immediately.
Aphasia can affect people of all ages, including children.
Since strokes are the most common cause of aphasia, the majority of people with aphasia are middle-aged or older.
According to the National Aphasia Association, there are many types — or patterns — of aphasia. Out of these many types, there are a few that are quite prevalent.
Global aphasia is the most severe type of aphasia, and it’s typically caused by major damage to the front and back of the left side of your brain. People with this type of aphasia usually have:
- severe problems using words
- severe problems understanding words
- limited ability to use a few words together
- an almost nonexistent ability to read or write
Broca’s aphasia is called “non-fluent aphasia“ because of the difficulty a person has with speaking. Typically, Broca‘s aphasia involves damage to the left frontal area of the brain. People with this type of aphasia usually:
- speak in short, incomplete sentences
- are able to convey basic messages but may be missing some words
- have a limited ability to understand what others say
- experience frustration because others can’t understand them
- have weakness or paralysis on the right side of the body
Mixed non-fluent aphasia
With some symptoms similar to Broca’s aphasia — meaning limited and difficult speech — people with mixed non-fluent aphasia also:
- have a limited comprehension of speech
- can only read and write at a very elementary level
Also identified as fluent aphasia, Wernicke‘s aphasia typically involves damage to the middle left side of the brain. People with this type of aphasia can speak but have trouble understanding when others speak. Additional symptoms include:
- being unable to understand and use language correctly
- tending to speak in long, complex sentences that are meaningless and include incorrect or nonsense words
- not realizing that others can’t understand them
- impaired reading and writing
The main feature of this pattern of aphasia is difficulty finding words that you really want to use, particularly nouns and verbs. People with anomic aphasia can usually speak well, but their speech is usually full of expressions of frustration. Additionally:
- they can understand others‘ speech well
- they can read well
- their difficulty in finding words is also evident in their writing
Primary progressive aphasia (PPA)
As the name suggests, this type of aphasia is progressive, which means it gets worse over time. Usually, PPA is a result of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer‘s disease. Initially, symptoms start with a loss of language and speech but can progress to a loss of memory.
If your doctor suspects you or someone you care for has aphasia, they may order imaging tests to find the source of the problem. A CT or MRI scan can help them identify the location and severity of the brain damage.
Your doctor may also screen you for aphasia during treatment for a brain injury or stroke. For example, they may test your ability to:
- follow commands
- name objects
- participate in a conversation
- answer questions
- write words
If you have aphasia, a speech-language pathologist can help identify specific communication disabilities. During the examination, they’ll test your ability to:
- speak clearly
- express ideas coherently
- interact with others
- understand verbal and written language
- use alternative forms of communication
The specific treatment a doctor might recommend will depend on the type, or pattern, of aphasia. Overall, the goal of treatment is to help an individual gain the greatest independence possible.
Certain types of aphasia may improve with speech-language therapy. This therapy typically proceeds slowly and gradually, and it should be started as early as possible after a brain injury. Specific treatment plans may involve:
- performing exercises to improve communication skills
- working in groups to practice communication skills
- testing communication skills in real-life situations
- learning to use other forms of communication, such as gestures, drawings, and computer-mediated
- using computers to relearn word sounds and verbs
- encouraging family involvement to help with communication at home
Emotional support in the form of talk therapy and family involvement may also be recommended, especially if a person is struggling with their diagnosis and the symptoms.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is a noninvasive form of brain stimulation, is one new method that has also shown some promise when it comes to improving certain symptoms of aphasia. However, most of the studies around this method are currently only used in research settings.
Many of the conditions that cause aphasia aren’t preventable, such as brain tumors or degenerative diseases. However, the most common cause of aphasia is stroke. If you can work on reducing your risk of stroke, you can lower your risk of aphasia.
You can take the following steps to lower your risk of stroke:
- Try to stop smoking if you smoke.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Prioritize exercise.
- Eat a diet that’s lower in sodium and fat
- Take steps to manage your blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Take steps to manage diabetes or circulation problems if you have them.
- Get treatment for atrial fibrillation if you have it.
- Get immediate medical care if you develop the symptoms of a stroke.
If you have temporary aphasia due to a TIA or migraine attack, you may not need treatment, and symptoms may fade with time.
If you or someone you love has a more permanent type of aphasia, which is usually caused by stroke, brain trauma, an infection, or a neurodegenerative disease, several factors determine the outlook:
- the cause of the brain damage
- the location of the brain damage
- the severity of the brain damage
- your age
- your overall health
Treating aphasia usually comes down to helping a person become as independent as possible with their condition. Emotional support, therapy, and other methods of healing may also be recommended.
If a loved one is living with aphasia, you may want to consider thinking about how you communicate with them. Consider the following methods to increase communication on both sides:
- Minimize or completely eliminate background noise when speaking with them.
- Keep your words simple but appropriately “adult.“ There is no need to talk down to someone with aphasia.
- Give the person time to speak. Resist the urge to finish their sentences.
- Use gestures, drawings, or written notes to help your communication.
- Downplay errors and encourage successes.