What is Wernicke’s aphasia?
Aphasias are conditions of the brain that impact a person’s communication abilities, particularly speech. Wernicke’s aphasia causes difficulty speaking in coherent sentences or understanding others’ speech.
Wernicke’s aphasia is the most common type of fluent aphasia. It occurs when the left middle side of the brain becomes damaged or altered. This part of the brain is known as Wernicke’s area, named after Carl Wernicke, a neurologist. Wernicke’s area of the brain controls human language. It’s also near where we store our personal dictionaries. Someone with Wernicke’s aphasia may have difficulty processing the meaning of spoken words.
Regarding speech and comprehension, people with Wernicke’s aphasia may:
- string words together to make sentences that don’t make sense
- make up words that have no meaning
- be unaware of the mistakes in their speech
- deliver words in a normal melodic line, even though the content may not make any sense
- articulate their words normally
- have difficulty repeating phrases
- add words when trying to repeat someone
- interrupt others and speak rapidly
Difficulty with spoken language may not carry over to other aspects of brain functioning. Aphasia is different from a disease like Alzheimer’s, in which many of the brain’s functions diminish over time. Those with Wernicke’s aphasia may:
- have severely impaired reading and writing ability
- understand visual materials better than written or spoken words
- maintain cognitive abilities other than those associated with language
Lesions or damage in the middle of the left side of the brain causes Wernicke’s aphasia.
Stroke is one potential cause of this condition because it impairs blood flow to the brain. If blood does not reach Wernicke’s area of the brain, it can kill brain cells, resulting in this type of aphasia. Aphasia affects 25 to 40 percent of people who experience strokes.
Other conditions that may affect this area of the brain include:
- head trauma
- neurological disorders
How it’s diagnosed
You should always see a doctor if you suspect you have Wernicke’s aphasia or any type of aphasia. This condition may indicate a significant alteration in the brain. Depending on your diagnosis, you may need to undergo medical interventions for the underlying cause of the aphasia.
Your doctor will need to perform tests to determine what has caused Wernicke’s aphasia. This will likely include brain imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan. These test can also help your doctor determine if other parts of your brain have been affected.
It may be necessary to have a neurological evaluation as well as a comprehensive speech and language examination. These tests will help the doctor determine your receptive and expressive language deficits. Some of the tasks may include:
- asking you to perform certain commands
- asking a question for you to answer
- asking you to name or repeat objects
- engaging in conversation
- testing your reading and writing
Once diagnosed, your doctor may recommend you see a speech-language pathologist who can help you improve your language abilities.
What is the outlook for Wernicke’s aphasia?
Wernicke’s aphasia may diminish your language abilities, but it’s possible that you will regain them over time with medical intervention. If the brain has been damaged, it will try to recover over the course of a few months. Speech and language intervention is most effective when it begins soon after the brain injury.
Someone with profound aphasia requires more medical intervention than someone with a milder diagnosis. Going to therapy to help your language skills and learn new communication strategies to use with family and friends may be necessary.