Aphasia is the loss of the ability to understand speech or communicate using language. It can occur when areas of the brain responsible for language become damaged. There are several different types of aphasia. Each type is categorized as either fluent or non-fluent. Broca’s aphasia is a non-fluent type.
Broca’s aphasia results from damage to a part of the brain called Broca’s area, which is located in the frontal lobe, usually on the left side. It’s one of the parts of the brain responsible for speech and for motor movement. It’s named for Pierre Paul Broca, a French physician who discovered the area in 1861. Broca’s aphasia is also referred to as expressive aphasia.
If you have Broca’s aphasia, you may be able to comprehend what is being said, but be unable to speak fluently because your brain is having trouble communicating efficiently to all of the muscles needed to form words. This may create great frustration, since you know what you want to say, but can’t get the words out the way you wish to.
Symptoms of Broca’s aphasia include:
- poor or absent grammar
- difficulty forming complete sentences
- omitting certain words, such as “the,” “an,” “and,” and “is” (a person with Broca’s aphasia may say something like “Cup, me” instead of “I want the cup”)
- more difficulty using verbs than nouns correctly
- difficulty articulating sounds and words
- difficulty repeating what has been said by others
- trouble with writing sentences
- difficulty reading
- problems with full comprehension
- difficulty following directions
Anything that causes the death of brain cells may result in aphasia. Brain cells die when blood flow or oxygen flow to a particular part of the brain is stopped or diminished.
- brain tumor
- injury to the brain, such as from a severe blow to the head or gunshot wound
- infection in the brain
- progressive neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease
If a stroke or other form of brain injury occurs, a doctor will test for the symptoms of aphasia. If you or someone with a progressive neurological condition begins to show trouble with speaking or language comprehension, a medical evaluation should be sought immediately.
The doctor will talk to you to determine your ability to comprehend and communicate. If problems with speech or comprehension are apparent or suspected, additional testing will be done.
Diagnosis of Broca’s aphasia requires an MRI or CT scan. These tests help determine the exact area of the brain that’s affected, as well as the extent of the damage.
Broca’s aphasia may improve even without treatment. Working with a speech-language pathologist, both in person or online, can greatly enhance progress. The more practice someone has speaking in a safe environment, the more likely they may be to continue trying to improve. Finding a support group, book club, or another type of social setting with other people going through the same thing can be very beneficial.
If you care about someone who has this condition, remember that they’re just as intelligent as before. Be understanding, as they may feel frustration about their current situation. Try to have patience and to include them in the life of your family or circle of friends. Keep them in the loop by including them actively in conversations and by looking directly at them, rather than talking around them. Other tips for communication include:
- Keep your sentences simple and short, but don’t speak to them as if they’re a child.
- Remember that their interests have not changed, only their ability to talk about them.
- Ask lots of yes and no questions, or questions that require very simple answers.
- Use gestures or props to get your point across.
- Fold in simple interactions, such as sitting quietly in nature, where you can enjoy each other’s presence without speaking too much.
If you have Broca’s aphasia, you can help to accelerate your own progress by having verbal interactions with people you trust. There are other techniques you can use:
- Try to control the noise level of the room you are in to eliminate any unnecessary distractions.
- It may seem silly at first, but use a mirror, and try practicing a few phrases, such as, “How are you?” and “What are you doing for the holidays?” before you attend events. This may help to build up your confidence level.
- Keep trying! Remember that improvement can continue for many years.
- Go at your own pace; just make sure to keep going.
Other types of aphasia
Other types of aphasia include Wernicke’s aphasia, global aphasia, conduction aphasia, and anomic aphasia. All types of aphasia affect communication and speech.
Wernicke’s aphasia affects the area of the brain known as Wernicke’s area, which is located on the left middle side. People with this condition have difficulty with language comprehension and may have a harder time processing spoken words than those with Broca’s aphasia do. People with Wernicke’s aphasia also display a different type of speech pattern. Wernicke’s is a type of fluent aphasia. Symptoms include:
- articulating sentences that have the appropriate cadence but lack the right words
- jumbling words together in a seemingly arbitrary sequence
- inserting made-up, nonsense-like words into sentences
- being unaware that you may be articulating something incomprehensible to others
Global aphasia results from extensive damage to large areas of the brain responsible for language. This type of aphasia can result in extreme difficulty with communication. Global aphasia impacts both the ability to speak and the ability to comprehend speech.
Conduction aphasia results in difficulty with repetition. People with this condition can speak fluently and understand language, but they have a hard time repeating words, or sentences, that have been spoken to them. It’s also known as associative aphasia.
Anomic aphasia results in difficulty with naming objects. A person with this condition can recognize and understand what an object is, and what it’s used for, but they have trouble finding the correct word or name for the object.
There is no one method for preventing Broca’s aphasia or any type of aphasia. One way to try to prevent it is by reducing your risk of having a stroke. This may require lifestyle changes, such as smoking cessation, lowering your alcohol consumption, and losing weight. Medications that lower blood pressure and cholesterol can also help. Talk to your doctor about your stroke risk and about lifestyle changes you can make to reduce it.
It’s also important to safeguard your head during sports and other activities, such as riding a motorcycle. Wearing a helmet can help to prevent the types of brain injuries that can lead to aphasia.
People with Broca’s aphasia often make significant improvements in their ability to speak over time. The extent of the damage, its cause, and your overall health and age are all factors that may impact recovery.
Improvement with speech may begin within days, weeks, or months of the injury. Improvements may continue to be seen for years afterward.